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The Observer eggs on the hunt for Crispin Blunt

By Paul Goodman

Crispin Blunt If a Minister is reported to be considering a proposal, it can mean many things.  The plan could be at the top of his in-tray; it could be at the bottom of his red box.  The Observer reports today that Crispin Blunt is "considering" allowing prisoners who apologise to their victims to have their sentences cut.  But the main reference in the report is to a charity plan which holds that such a move could save millions of pounds.

Two responses are best if one's phoned, as a Conservative, and asked to comment on such stories by papers that lean to the left.  One is to say nothing.  This was my course when the paper rang yesterday searching for a response.  (I did pass comment on the political problems facing Blunt - of which more in a moment.) The other is to make a safe, solid, general statement.  This was Douglas Carswell's reponse, as readers can see.

This story provides a telling illustration of why such actions are usually well advised.  The Observer splashes the story on its front page.  Blunt is a Minister in trouble after the prisoner treatment row this week.  Could the two  somehow be connected?  Is the Observer nicely squaring a journalistic circle by giving a liberal proposal some space, while simultaneously setting Blunt up for the Daily Mail and the Sun tomorrow?

Today, no doubt, the Justice Ministry will try to knock the story down.  We'll see later today and tomorrow whether it succeeds.  Blunt's being treated no worse by the media, and in some ways better, than other Ministers who find themselves in the eye of the tornado (of whatever Party).  But the Observer's story is a reminder that the hunt for Blunt is still up and running.

But the Minister, of course, isn't the key actor in this drama.  Rather, as Tim suggested on Friday, it's his boss - Ken Clarke, who has strong views on criminal justice, and is sticking to them.  The difference between Clarke and most of his party on sentencing is a reminder that disputes in this Government happen as much within parties as between them.

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