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By Peter Hoskin
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Q:
Ask Lib Dems who their favourite Tory is, and what seems to be the most common
response?

A:
Ken Clarke.

Q:
Ask Lib Dems what their least favourite reshuffle appointment was, and what
seems to be the most common response?

A:
Chris Grayling.

I
probably don’t need to explain why this is so; not least because a quick shuffle
through today’s newspapers will make it clear enough. In the Guardian, there’s
an article
by Ken Clarke
in which he confesses that, “as the Guardian editorial
writers have pointed out, I am indeed ‘instinctively liberal’”. Whereas in the
Sun, in his
first interview
since replacing Mr Clarke as Justice Secretary, Chris
Grayling affirms that, “I want to be the Tough Justice Secretary”. To which the
Sun responds,
“It would be tough to find a greater contrast to Ken Clarke than his successor.”


This
will no doubt excite many Conservatives who didn’t go in for Ken Clarke’s brand
of “instinctively liberal” justice — but they’d best curb their applause for a
while longer. After all, during a period of Coalition government, those
questions at the top of this post hold quite some relevance. Lib Dems are
already smarting at the appointment of Chris Grayling. They will no doubt try
to impede any major shift to the right in justice policy.  

This
isn’t to say that Mr Grayling won’t be able to achieve any change. After all,
he’s already seen
off a pre-existing plan
to cut the sentences of certain criminals who plead
guilty. But if he wants to go even further — particularly if he starts talking
up a British Bill of Rights at the expense of the ECHR — then he’s likely to
meet with stony-faced resistance from his Coalition partners. And, what’s more,
he could meet with resistance from the Treasury too. In his Sun interview, Mr
Grayling places an emphasis on achieving “more for less” — but that will have
to be balanced against his determination to not cut the number of prison
places.

Of
course, there are numerous ways that this could play out. Lib Dems might find
that they can work amicably with Mr Grayling, not least because he’s far
from the uncaring axeman
of left-wing caricature. Or perhaps the Tory
leadership will use any
number of concessions
to barter a different justice policy out of the Lib
Dems. But I rather suspect that we’ll end up with more justice policies on
David Cameron’s “growing
list of things that I want to do but can’t”

and perhaps intentionally. As the election approaches, the Conservatives will
want to say more about what they would do outside of Coalition.  

In
any case, Mr Grayling’s beat is worth keeping a close watch over. Things could
easily turn difficult.

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