For 1993 read 2010. For James Bulger, read the Edlington victims. And for Tony Blair's "tough the causes of crime," read David Cameron's "broken society." Here's today's Journal column.
It seems a long time ago now, but there was a time when law and order - or ‘Laura Norder’ as it was more commonly known - was regarded as what political commentators call a ‘Tory issue’
By that they meant that, whenever crime featured as a big issue in the public consciousness, the Tory vote would tend to go up – just as Labour’s vote tended to rise whenever the health service was in the headlines.
One dramatic news event, however, changed all that. The horrific murder of toddler James Bulger in 1993 understandably sparked a bout of national agonising about the kind of society the Tories had created over the preceding 13 or 14 years.
The beneficiary was an up-and-coming Labour frontbencher by the name of Tony Blair, then Shadow Home Secretary, whose famous soundbite “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime,” encapsulated the changed national mood.
The repercussions are still being felt today. It is arguable that without the higher profile afforded him by the Bulger case, Mr Blair would never have eclipsed his older rival Gordon Brown in the subsequent battle for the Labour succession.
Be that as it may, tackling the causes of crime and anti-social behaviour has remained a core part of the New Labour agenda ever since.
Nearly two decades on, though, the political wheel has turned nearly full circle. Now it’s Labour that has been in power for 13 years, and Labour that must try to explain the deeper social malaise behind an almost equally horrific case.
David Cameron has often been accused of modelling himself on Mr Blair – but
commentators can surely be forgiven for drawing the comparison again after yesterday's speech by the Tory leader on the Edlington attacks.
Ever since he became Tory leader in 2005, Mr Cameron has attempted to paint a picture of what he sees as Britain’s “broken society,” casting himself in the role of healer.
However Labour has tried to dismiss the idea as, at best, a caricacture, and at worst, a slur on the decent hard-working, law-abiding families who make up the vast majority of the population.
Yesterday’s political exchanges saw that debate played out in microcosm. Mr Cameron said the case of two young boys tortured in Doncaster was not an "isolated incident of evil" but symptomatic of wider social problems.
Openly comparing the case to that of James Bulger, he said it should cause people to ask themselves: “What has gone wrong with our society and what we are going to do about it?"
Labour, in turn, accused Mr Cameron of "tarring" the people of Britain by "seizing on one absolutely horrific crime, with Treasury minister Liam Byrne branding the speech “unpleasant.”
Part of Labour’s objection to the phrase “broken society” is that it is, in a sense, a contradiction in terms, that the word “society” implies the existence of the kind of shared values and community spirit that Mr Cameron is suggesting is absent.
But the biggest question Labour has to answer is why after 13 criminal justice bills and the creation of more than 3,000 additional offences since 1997, we appear to be no further forward than we were in 1993.
For the first time in three elections, it looks like the Tories once more have a chance to make the ‘law and order issue’ their own.