Chris Grayling's chances of becoming the next Home Secretary took a further blow yesterday after one of his high-profile predecessors suggested he would be willing to return to the post should David Cameron form the next Government.
David Davis, who abruptly resigned as shadow Home Secretary in 2008 to begin a personal crusade against the erosion of civil liberties, said that Mr Grayling had made a series of mistakes that have earned negative headlines for his party. Mr Davis said he would now be prepared to return to take over the important portfolio, despite taking the unprecedented step of giving up his shadow Cabinet career to highlight his opposition to the Government's proposals for detaining terror suspects for up to 42 days.
It is thought that Mr Davis and Mr Cameron had also clashed in private on the party's commitment on safeguarding civil liberties. Mr Grayling has been largely anonymous in the Tory election campaign so far after he was recorded suggesting that bed-and-breakfast owners should have the right to bar gay couples from staying at their properties.
Mr Davis said that while it was "for David to decide" who he wanted in his team, he would not turn down an invitation. "I am happy where I am being constructively helpful in the backbenches, or on the frontbenches," he said. "I'm not going to compound Chris's difficulties. I hope that decisions made on who are going to be Home Secretary are not made on the basis of one piece of taped information from one meeting. You know what this is like: what happens in politics is you make one mistake and then people follow you around with a tape recorder."
Mr Grayling's chances of becoming Home Secretary in Mr Cameron's first Cabinet have been falling after his comments on gay rights. "I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences," he was recorded saying. "If it's a question of somebody who's doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn't come into their own home."
He has since become one of the invisible men of the election campaign. His absence has surprised many on both sides of the Commons as he had been used in previous local and European election campaigns as one of the party's main attack dogs. He has appeared only briefly to offer a partial apology for his comments. A big name would be needed to replace him at the department, which has been notoriously difficult to run. Mr Davis accrued significant public support for his stance on civil liberties.
Yesterday, senior party figures were still repairing the damage done by Mr Grayling's comments. George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, met the gay-rights campaigners, Peter Tatchell and Tamsin Omond, ahead of their protest against Mr Grayling's views outside the Conservative Party headquarters in Westminster. Nick Herbert, a member of the shadow Cabinet who is in a civil partnership, said he recognised that some had formed the "wrong impression" about the Tories, but the party had changed. Mr Osborne also insisted the party had changed and would consider the case for same-sex marriage rights.
Mr Grayling's gaffe saw Mr Cameron's poll ratings among gay and lesbian voters dip. But the Tory leader launched a fightback during the weekend, promising that a Tory Government would erase convictions of those found guilty of consensual gay sex and tackle homophobic bullying in schools.
"It is good news that David Cameron has, at last, offered two specific gay-rights policies, but disappointing that he has not promised to end the bans on same-sex marriage and on gay blood donors," Mr Tatchell said.