The sky is black with Grayling turkeys coming home to roost. Mercifully Gove is reloading his shotgun

14 Oct 2015 at 09:05

Once again I am pleased to doff my hat to Michael Gove. While the sky is black with Grayling turkeys coming home to roost, Gove stands in the barren wasteland of the MOJ with his shotgun. The poor fellow hardly has time to reload. Book ban on prisoners? Bang, squawk, thud. Vile abuse of our justice system? Bang, squawk, thud. Selling expertise on Justice to the Saudis? Two barrels for that act of almost criminal stupidity. Turning our prisons to squalid, unsafe dungeons of depravity and despair spawning record levels of suicide? Bang, squawk, thud. And this is just the first wave of turkeys. So little time, so much to do.

I expect the next policy to be thrown overboard will be the quite insane, undebated and unworkable piece of Grayling genius of charging criminals for the use of the courts. Fifty magistrates have resigned already, and most are modifying it to make it almost meaningless. But what has shocked me in a very pleasing way is that many Crown Court judges simply ignore it despite the fact that they have no discretion in the matter. It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs when judges come to the conclusion that a law is so unfair and plain wrong that they refuse to implement it. In my thirty eight years at the bar this is a unique experience.

But can you imagine the Gove response when a report about Justice Solutions International selling our expertise in justice to the Saudis where the veneer of civilisation is as flimsy as a fifty pound note crossed his desk? He would have gone totally Goveshit. Whatever next? Defra exports good old English oak for crucifixions? BIS gives grants to the cutlery industry to become competitive in selling their finest for beheadings and amputations? Pity the poor old Mandarins. They have a minister who thinks, innovates and decides. And so unlike most ministers who load, fire and aim in that order. It must be terrifying for the poor dears.

I would have loved to have been in the room when chuckles Hammond rather loftily suggested Gove was being naive. So wonderfully Foreign Office. Yes, we will upset the Saudis and they will have a bit of a sulk for a while. But can you imagine Cameron trying to justify the policy when pictures of a beheaded and crucified seventeen year old appear on the net? Or when that silly old boy gets three hundred lashes? I say silly because you really are inviting serious trouble if you make any sort of alcohol in Saudi. It is hardly a state secret. All Prime Ministers have to spend a rather long time shaking hands with some despicable people but every now and then it is important to be seen to be holding their noses at the same time.

The Saudis are an odd bunch, living in great comfort in the Middle Ages and utterly terrified of revolution or democracy. But we need them and they need us. Ghastly as it is, their awful regime is the only stable Arab nation. What always amazes me is how out of touch they are with how our government works. I was having lunch a few weeks ago with an old friend who produced Death of a Princess, which caused uproar and calls for the government to ban it. Martin told me that what had so incensed them was not that he had faked up the execution ( I’m sure they might have arranged for a woman of lesser birth to be topped), rather that the documentary actually depicted Saudi Princesses drinking and shagging in night clubs. It’s hard to believe that it caused a major diplomatic incident.

But back to Gove. His conference speech was an excellent demonstration of how far the Conservative Party has embraced humanity, compassion and the real world. For a senior cabinet minister to reject the ‘prison works’ nonsense and speak of the ‘undeserving’ rich sitting on each other’s renumeration committees in the same speech is a cause for celebration. This will no doubt cause Paul Dacre to bite the carpet and utter despair to what is now the shambles named the Labour Party.

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