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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'