A minister must deal in facts

Mr Grayling plays to the authoritarian gallery. His short-sighted attitude to prisons is storing up problems

 

Share

Early on in his government, David Cameron would complain jokily in private that he had more trouble with Kenneth Clarke, his Secretary of State for Justice, than with any of the Liberal Democrats around the cabinet table.

He solved that problem two years ago when he promoted Chris Grayling to the post and shunted Mr Clarke into the waiting room for Embarrassing Elderly Relatives. Unfortunately, the change has done nothing to serve the cause of justice. Mr Grayling has done the easy thing for a Conservative minister responsible for half of the old Home Office. He has appeased the Prime Minister by willingly accepting spending cuts, and he has courted the Tory press by adopting the most punitive posture possible towards prisoners.

The cuts to legal aid have gone so far that Alex Cameron QC, the Prime Minister's brother, successfully argued in court last week that his clients could not receive a fair trial because they could not afford to hire barristers to represent them.

Mr Grayling's short-sighted attitude to prisons is also storing up problems for the future. As we report today, he has blocked an independent inquiry into rape and sexual assault in jails. It is not clear whether his opposition arises from petulance at previous criticism from the Howard League, the prison reform charity that is carrying out the inquiry, or from a belief that any concern for the welfare of prisoners might be interpreted as "soft on crime". But it is outrageous that he seems to accept, by implication, that the risk of sexual assault is simply part of punishment for criminals.

Nor was this a single incident. Mr Grayling's decision last year to override prison governors' discretion and impose a blanket ban on prisoners receiving books was foolish and counterproductive. Last week, it was reported that, as a result of another decision to ban prisoners from wearing their own clothes, many are forced to wear prison clothes that are too small. This is foolish, counterproductive and petty.

Mr Grayling's willingness to play to the authoritarian gallery was also evident in his proposal for automatic jail sentences for a second possession of a knife. We are sure that he did not leak the letter opposing the plan by Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which was written the day after the fatal stabbing of Ann Maguire, the Leeds teacher. But it does seem that someone thought there was political advantage for the Tories in doing so, which is deeply regrettable.

However, Mr Grayling's proposal is badly enough flawed on its merits. Expanding the already bloated prison population would do nothing to reduce knife crime – and certainly would have done nothing to save Mrs Maguire, a case so terrible precisely because it is so extraordinarily rare – and would do everything to turn petty criminals into more serious ones.

But that is precisely the kind of argument to which Mr Grayling seems reluctant to listen. His refusal to allow the Prison Service to co-operate with the Howard League inquiry into sexual assault in jails confirms not only that he wants to pose as a harsh disciplinarian, but that he has little interest in facts, evidence or debate. This absence of curiosity is an unattractive feature in a senior minister but, worse than that, it is a mistake. Criminal justice and penal policy are difficult subjects. The public's desire to see serious crime punished severely is important, but it needs to be balanced by evidence of what works in crime prevention and rehabilitation.

It is enough to make us yearn for the return of Mr Clarke, a compassionate, one-nation Conservative and an experienced minister who is confident enough to fight for his beliefs.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions