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18 March 2015updated 09 Jul 2021 7:53am

First Thoughts: The London Bridge attacks, redemption and the Daily Mail’s takeover of the i newspaper

By Peter Wilby

The meaning of redemption has been on my mind since the attacks at London Bridge by Usman Khan, released from prison on licence a year ago after being convicted of terrorism offences in 2012. Theologians disagree over the interpretation of the Christian doctrine of redemption. But most people, without necessarily being Christians, take redemption to mean two things. First, we are all sinners, and criminals should not be put into a discrete category of villains and monsters, but on a continuum with the rest of us. Second, even the worst should have the chance to repent of their sins, freely atone for them and seek forgiveness.

It was presumably in that sense that the family of one of Khan’s two victims Jack Merritt – who, like his murderer, was attending a conference on prisoner rehabilitation at Fishmongers’ Hall by London Bridge – stated that “he believed in redemption… not revenge”. They echoed the words of President Obama, who said in 2015 that “justice and redemption go hand in hand”.

Many of those who, at risk to themselves, tried to stop Khan were ex-offenders also attending the conference. They included James Ford, on day release from a sentence imposed in 2004 for murdering a woman of 21. Are they redeemed? Do they deserve forgiveness? In Ford’s case, perhaps not. “He is not a hero, absolutely not,” the murdered woman’s aunt said.

So, those few minutes on London Bridge provided ammunition for both sides – the “lock-them-up-and-throw-the-key-away” and the “give-them-another-chance” brigades – in our raucous political debate over law and order.

That is not how we should see it. Terrorist atrocities should not be the occasion for political and press grandstanding or the “vox pops” and phone-ins beloved by broadcasters, but for thought and reflection. Though much of my thinking derives from the Christian tradition, I am not a believer. But I sometimes regret that clergy – and others who can guide us through the troubling ethical and philosophical issues around crime and punishment – no longer play a prominent role in our lives.

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Making a century

A year ago, I entered my age, then 74, and gender into a calculator on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website. It revealed that I had a 5.9 per cent chance of living to 100. I have just re-entered my details and found my chances have fallen to 2.4 per cent. Am I drinking more? Started smoking again? Taken up some hazardous sport such as scuba diving? None of these. Have I contracted a deadly disease? Well, sort of: I am living under a Tory government.

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ONS projections are purely statistical. They are based on changes in mortality rates, not on individual lifestyle or genes. Its latest bulletin, just published, dramatically reduces life expectancy estimates for all age groups and both genders. In 2014, a new-born baby girl was expected to live to 93.6. Now, she is expected to reach 90.4.

The ONS does not blame this on the Tories or on NHS and social care cuts. Experts, it observes, disagree on the causes. But no other Western country is recording falls in estimated life expectancy, except the US. Draw your own conclusions.

All those concerned say “I”

Now that Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail owner, has bought the i newspaper, two men – the other is Rupert Murdoch – will control more than two-thirds of the national newspaper print market. They have similar political persuasions. Though Rothermere will probably maintain the i’s non-partisan stance, one is bound to ask if our competition and media authorities are doing their jobs properly.

An early Christmas miracle

The week before the 2017 general election, I wrote here that Jeremy Corbyn “could… come close to Tony Blair’s 35.2 per cent [share of the vote] in 2005”. That, at the time, made me an optimist about Labour’s chances. In fact, it got 40 per cent of the vote. As I write, the latest YouGov poll gives the party 34 per cent. I therefore hope – with as little confidence now as then – for another miracle.

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This article appears in the 04 Dec 2019 issue of the New Statesman, What we want