Crimefighters tend to come in pairs. At least, the nice ones do – your lonesome Luthers and Rebuses offer a slightly less glossy mix of rule-breaking and contemplating the meaning of life while lying hungover on a couch surrounded by empty takeaway boxes and whisky bottles.
Despite the allure of such mavericks, the dynamic duo model has proved pretty successful over the years: think Morse and Lewis; Holmes and Watson; Batman and Robin.
It’s no coincidence.
Both have difficult jobs in departments which have claimed many a political career, and they have evidently realised that both their chances of success are higher if they work together. When she won Politician of the Year this week, May remarked:
“It used to be a joke that I lock them up and Ken Clarke lets them out, now they say I lock them up and Chris Grayling throws away the key.”
As the comment suggests, this is a rather more harmonious working relationship than the previous lineup – it would not be inaccurate to say that May felt Clarke was rather more Inspector Lestrade than Doctor Watson.
As it is, the current lineup works well not just because they see the world of law and order in quite a similar way but also because the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary are both ambitious. They enjoy their current roles, and don’t intend to rock the boat in the run-up to the election, but they are thinking ahead, too.
That a terrorism suspect is still on the run after escaping wearing a burqa is an embarrassing reminder that there are plenty of reputational risks involved in leading the fight against crime. Despite the occasional stumble, May and Grayling have managed to defy the common wisdom that home affairs is a poisoned chalice (so far).
The next step seems clear – having focused on getting the job done, they should now start to explain to the public the results of their work. I’ve noted before that law and order has been downplayed in Conservative communications, and that ought to change. As the election approaches, May and Grayling have an opportunity to win votes on their record of reducing crime.
That message will be more than just the traditional lock ’em up and throw away the key line, as much as the Home Secretary may joke about it.
It will be that the Tory stronghold of the Coalition Government is catching criminals – but is also revolutionising their rehabilitation.
It is a social catastrophe and a huge waste of taxpayers’ money if our jails simply turn out people who swiftly reoffend. If Grayling’s reforms work to break that cycle, and I expect more evidence will be released over the next 18 months, then the Government will have a major achievement to shout about.