Appointing a convicted arsonist should be applauded, not admonished

The political media is breathlessly reporting, in its usual shocked and horrified tones, that Jeremy Corbyn has appointed someone to his frontbench who was once sent down for “wilful fire-raising”.

Mike Watson, who has been appointed a shadow education minister in the House of Lords, went to jail for 8 months in 2005/06.

We are still supposedly a country committed to the concept of rehabilitation through the criminal justice system. The strength of that commitment is sadly frequently called into question, given the two major political parties’ mutual predilection for totemic “tough on crime” one-upmanship.

The idea that by banging more people up for longer you make society safer – “prison works” – only has superficial merit until you realise that its logical conclusion is to bang up everyone for ever.

But Justice Secretaries still like to bleat on meaningfully about rehabilitation and restorative justice from time to time, because they know they will reduce “recidivism” – i.e. re-offending.

So Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to appoint a convict should not be denigrated, but praised. Especially as Watson’s crime was committed long ago, he served his time, and he has rejoined civil society and worked in the private sector successfully for almost a decade with no apparent recurrent desire to set fire to the curtains.

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