Andy McSmith's Diary: Chris Grayling the worst Lord Chancellor for 342 years? No, worse


Andy McSmith
Tuesday 17 March 2015 20:34 GMT

“Most judges, lawyers, probation staff, prison officers, victims, court staff and people denied access to justice believe that you have been the worst Lord Chancellor since Lord Shaftesbury in 1673,” Chris Grayling was told by his Labour shadow Sadiq Khan, as they faced each other in the Commons for the last time before the election.

There is an obvious reason for mentioning Lord Shaftesbury: he was the last person without any legal qualifications to be appointed Lord Chancellor until, for some reason, Grayling got the job 430 years later. Shaftesbury was responsible for whipping up anti-Catholic hysteria and had to flee the country under suspicion of treason. That was because he wanted to prevent Charles II’s brother, James, from being crowned King, which showed sound judgement. He was an intelligent politician.

Lord Chancellor Grayling, on the other hand, in the words of one QC, Lord Pannick, is “notable only for his attempts to restrict judicial review and human rights, his failure to protect the judiciary against criticism from his colleagues; and the reduction of legal aid to a bare minimum”.

Khan should apologise to Lord Shaftesbury forthwith.

Stop messing about, Ted

Ken Clarke has been around for so long that he was a government whip in February 1974, when Edward Heath tried to ward off defeat by forming a coalition. Clarke was delegated to sound out Tory MPs about getting into bed with the Liberals.

He got a short answer from the MP for Rutland, Sir Kenneth Lewis. “He just told me to tell my boss that ‘he has just lost an election, to stop messing about and leave Downing Street’, and put the phone down,” Clarke told the Radio 4 programme When The People Say Not Sure. It’s an anecdote David Cameron may find deeply unhelpful two months from now.

Kitchen war hots up

Austin Mitchell, who is quitting the Commons after 38 years as Labour MP for Grimsby, is baiting Ed Miliband loyalists. He has posted a picture of himself in his well-stocked kitchen – which he called a “real Labour kitchen” as opposed to the kitchenette in which Ed and Justine Miliband were photographed – for which he was rebuked in an email from the Labour MP for East Hull, Karl Turner. Instead of showing contrition, Mitchell posted Turner’s email on his blog, identifying him as a “Twitter censor”.

Turner wrote: “You’re a joke Austin. It’s very sad to see it but it’s becoming increasingly apparent. You think it clever to attack us. It’s not clever and you’ve had plenty out of the Party… We need to retain Grimsby. You’ve done little to help… And I doubt you’ve ever had a kitchen in Grimsby. Mili has one in Donny and mine’s massive…”

Drawn-out wrongdoing

Neville Thurlbeck, former chief reporter of the News of the World, has written a memoir. It comes with a potted biography, which has the look of having been written by the man himself. After listing his journalism awards, it adds: “He was drawn into the phone-hacking scandal and served thirty-seven days of a six-month prison sentence.” I like that “drawn into”. A useful phrase for anyone caught doing wrong.

From Ney to yea

The bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo draws near. One of my favourite vignettes occurred 200 years ago tomorrow, when Marshal Ney met Napoleon. The marshal had promised Louis XVIII that he would recapture Napoleon and bring him to Paris “in an iron cage” but was so overwhelmed in the presence of his former commander that he changed sides.

The next night, King Louis legged it to Belgium, leaving France to Napoleon, who ruled for 100 days.

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