Thursday, 5 March 2015

Cowardice Under Fire : David Cameron, Young Offenders and the Cadets

Today’s coverage of David Cameron’s refusal to participate in a live TV debate with Ed Miliband reminds me of a personal experience of his flakiness back in 1993 when I was working in the Home Office. I was a humble official responsible for advising ministers on juvenile justice policy. David Maclean, the Minister of State was very keen on exposing delinquents to a taste of military discipline. An ex Territorial Army Officer, he wanted to see the Cadet Forces take on more young people who had been before the courts. A meeting was arranged with the Ministry of Defence to discuss the idea.

Maclean could for some reason not attend and I was dispatched across to Whitehall, accompanied by 
Cameron who was the Home Office Special Adviser. We were expecting to meet some middle ranking officials to chew over the possibilities. Perhaps we might agree some sort of initiative that would satisfy Maclean while reassuring one of the country’s largest voluntary youth organisations that they would not be overrun by the kind of persistent young offenders who were making all sorts of headlines at the time.

When we arrived at the MoD, we were ushered into a room containing not an Under Secretary or two, but a Minister of State, the Permanent Secretary, and the Heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force, all in full regalia. As the minister made some opening remarks, a nervous looking Cameron elbowed me in the ribs and whispered into my ear “You Do It.”

Rightly as it turned out, he had sensed the high level turnout was not to praise Maclean's plan but to bury it.  Already the politician, Cameron decided he wanted nothing to do with a bid which was bound to fail, leaving it to me to put the Home Office proposals as best I could. It was all fairly friendly but the Military Chiefs left us in no doubt that it was a non runner. While  a great idea in principle,  it would be simply too hard in practice. It might put off the “good kids” in the Cadet detachments or worse contaminate them. Parents wouldn’t like it. Maclean’s idea had been firmly and permanently kicked into the long grass (although he was more successful later on in getting the Probation service to develop yomping activities for some of  their lads). Cameron had barely uttered a word.
We wandered back to Queen Anne’s Gate empty handed and went our separate ways, Cameron to the ministerial corridor , me to the third floor . My boss, a cricket enthusiast, thought the Special Adviser had, like Donald Bradman, simply taken a look at the pitch and sent someone else in to bat. I thought he’d been a bit of a coward. 


  1. A humble official!! Great back story!

  2. Thanks Paul - hope all well with you- ran into Jackie Lowthian last week