Conservative Diary

« The seven government departments David Cameron should scrap at the next reshuffle | Main | George has a friend in Merv »

What will Chris Grayling be able to achieve in Coalition?

By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter

Q: Ask Lib Dems who their favourite Tory is, and what seems to be the most common response?

A: Ken Clarke.

Q: Ask Lib Dems what their least favourite reshuffle appointment was, and what seems to be the most common response?

A: Chris Grayling.

I probably don’t need to explain why this is so; not least because a quick shuffle through today’s newspapers will make it clear enough. In the Guardian, there’s an article by Ken Clarke in which he confesses that, “as the Guardian editorial writers have pointed out, I am indeed ‘instinctively liberal’”. Whereas in the Sun, in his first interview since replacing Mr Clarke as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling affirms that, “I want to be the Tough Justice Secretary”. To which the Sun responds, “It would be tough to find a greater contrast to Ken Clarke than his successor.”

This will no doubt excite many Conservatives who didn’t go in for Ken Clarke’s brand of “instinctively liberal” justice — but they’d best curb their applause for a while longer. After all, during a period of Coalition government, those questions at the top of this post hold quite some relevance. Lib Dems are already smarting at the appointment of Chris Grayling. They will no doubt try to impede any major shift to the right in justice policy.  

This isn’t to say that Mr Grayling won’t be able to achieve any change. After all, he’s already seen off a pre-existing plan to cut the sentences of certain criminals who plead guilty. But if he wants to go even further — particularly if he starts talking up a British Bill of Rights at the expense of the ECHR — then he’s likely to meet with stony-faced resistance from his Coalition partners. And, what’s more, he could meet with resistance from the Treasury too. In his Sun interview, Mr Grayling places an emphasis on achieving “more for less” — but that will have to be balanced against his determination to not cut the number of prison places.

Of course, there are numerous ways that this could play out. Lib Dems might find that they can work amicably with Mr Grayling, not least because he’s far from the uncaring axeman of left-wing caricature. Or perhaps the Tory leadership will use any number of concessions to barter a different justice policy out of the Lib Dems. But I rather suspect that we’ll end up with more justice policies on David Cameron’s “growing list of things that I want to do but can’t” — and perhaps intentionally. As the election approaches, the Conservatives will want to say more about what they would do outside of Coalition.  

In any case, Mr Grayling’s beat is worth keeping a close watch over. Things could easily turn difficult.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.