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UK Politics

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Does Chris Grayling dream of electric sheep?


There are times when you can’t help wondering if Chris Grayling is a (fairly) sophisticated android. Maybe it’s because of the rather wooden gesture he makes with his forearm and outstretched hand; or maybe the robotic way he says things that sound like they were written by a computer.

All ministers tend to sound like this when they’re reading their first answer from a brief. But Grayling even does it with supplementaries. What was he doing to help women “out of the cycle of crime and reoffending”, asked the Tory Mark Harper. “I can confirm that arrangements were put in place in the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 to ensure that there is a statutory obligation to make arrangements for women,” said the Justice Secretary, metallically.

If he’s an android, Grayling is operated by a very right-wing programme of course. So it was quite an achievement for his Labour opposite number Sadiq Khan to make him sound like a liberal. So desperate these days is the Labour front bench to represent the forces of law and order that Khan chose to lambast him over the recent escape of two men, one convicted for murder (in 1998), from the Category D Spring Hill prison, saying the “wrong sort of offenders are being sent to the wrong sort of prison”. Grayling said Khan sounded like he wanted to get rid of open prisons which help to rehabilitate prisoners before release and that “almost everyone who goes to an open prison behaves well and is able to be released safely… Is he saying that that should change?” 

Luckily, there are still a few liberals left in the Labour Party. Kevin Brennan pressed the call he has made to reverse Grayling’s mean-minded ban on steel-stringed guitars, along with Billy Bragg, on whose initiative 350 of the instruments have been supplied to prisons. The mild-mannered Prisons minister Jeremy Wright said he was currently examining the “security advice” on the subject. Whatever that can be.

Meanwhile, Labour’s York Central MP Hugh Bayley asked Lib Dem minister Simon Hughes – without much success – to ensure that Richard III’s forthcoming reburial in Leicester Cathedral would be conducted “in a way which acknowledges King Richard’s close association with Yorkshire”. Quite how this feat should be performed Bayley didn’t say. But it seems odd that for centuries Richard, thanks to the – perhaps unfair – depiction of him by Shakespeare and Tudor historians, was a royal pariah; yet now that his skeleton has been found under a Leicester car park, everyone wants a piece of him. Though not literally, you have to hope.