May is creating a hierarchy of murder

Theresa May is so desperate to regain her popularity she is willing to create a hierarchy of murder.

The home secretary had a torrid time at the Police Federation conference last year. It turns out her police reforms (code for cost cutting) aren't that popular with the rank-and-file.

So this year May and the organisers have conspired to make the event go rather better. The newchairman has asked members to be respectful, May has been given a briefing on which questions will come up at the Q&A and she's arrived with sweeties for the police. The sugary treat is a promise to put cop killers in jail for the rest of their natural life, instead of the current minimum of 30 years.

The idea has all the hallmarks of cobbled-together-in-the-back-of-a-taxi policymaking. It is free, it will please the red tops and it is tailored to win May a warm reception from the police. Of course, she doesn't have to go to these annual get-togethers, but it doesn't pay for a law-and-order home secretary to be frozen out of their conference.

So the home secretary cooked up a policy designed for announcement rather than implementation. It hasn't even worked on that level – even when she says things they like, the Federation can't mask its disdain. But her policy is also populist, counter-productive and morally intolerable.

If May bothers to implement her proposal (these things often die a day after announcement) she would be creating a hierarchy of murder victims. A policeman's life is worth more than a member of the public's life.

May says this is because "to attack and kill a police officer is to attack the fundamental basis of our society", in which case, she must believe this is a police state. Killing a policeman is no worse than killing a doctor or a racing car driver or a newsagent. All murder is an attack on the fundamental basis of our society, because society is about coming together for mutual benefit. Her rhetoric is the product of either a simple or a cynical mind. Perhaps a bit of both.

Admittedly, we do hand down harsher sentences for crimes based on additional criteria, such as racially-aggravated assault. But these tougher sentences do not reflect the identity of the victim. They reflect the motive of the assailant. They exist to clamp down on particular types of problematic behaviour. In other words, they are aimed at creating less crime.

Penal experts predict May's policy would do the opposite, particularly in prison. With no prospect of release, inmates will lose any restrain on their behaviour. That type of mentality is highly dangerous for maintaining order in jails.

These types of moral and practical discrepancies are what you get if you treat British law as a press release. May's proposal has been constructed specifically to get her over a tough speech, with little thought to its ramifications. For a law and order home secretary, she seems uninterested in the first and intent on damaging the second.