Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Is Chris Grayling losing his touch?

The theory of a quick populist fix for the headline-hungry politician is not very complicated: say something that you know will outrage the liberal-lefties and bask in the attention as the man who dared to speak out.

So why doesn't it seem to have worked out for the cerebral and shy Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, treading gingerly into the high profile area of the right to self-defence this week?

Firstly, too many repeats. Grayling's comments were greeted with a certain deja vu all over again weariness.

Secondly, perhaps a tiny amount of over-reach. Indeed Melanie Phillips thought Grayling had gone well over the top in 'endorsing mob rule'. David Blackburn of The Spectator thought it was populism at its worst, and The Times was equally unimpressed.

The Shadow Home Secretary may well have been angling for a Daily Mail headline. But Tories' licence to kill a burglar may have been a little stark even for Grayling.

(Yet that would not seem to be a grossly disproportionate reading of Grayling's comments in defence of somewhat unreasonable and disproportionate force: "If you end up killing them, arguably in many cases that wouldn't be [grossly disproportionate]. It's got to be clear that the householder has gone way beyond what any reasonable person would expect to be the case to defend yourself." And the Mail's headline was intended as a championing of Grayling's proposed policy: Mr Dacre's paper favours "a clear law offering immunity to householders who act against intruders", which would include the licence to kill).

Thirdly, rather predictably, all this meant that the Shadow Home Secretary in effect reversed his position within 24 hours, as The Times reported:

Chris Grayling said that prosecuting people only where their defensive actions were judged to be “grossly disproportionate” was a serious option but said that it may not necessarily be adopted when the Conservatives reviewed the law on burglary.

He appeared to soften his position after questioners suggested that the term “grossly disproportionate” would condone the use of disproportionate force against burglars. Mr Grayling told The Times: “I am not in any way suggesting that a Conservative government would create a licence to kill. But I am saying that, at the moment, the law does assume that householders who are under threat can look at things in the cold light of day. The world does not work like that and who knows how any of us would react when confronted by a knife-wielding burglar.”

Yet the terms of that climbdown would appear to confirm that the Shadow Home Secretary hasn't read the law he is talking about, as those pesky Guardianistas had pointed out the previous day, public spiritedly offering him a handy crib.

"what should give him pause for thought, if he only took the time to read it, is the letter of the current law. Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 codifies the traditional common law, and it squarely gives the benefit of the doubt to people defending themselves and their homes.

Self-defence pleas are presumed to be valid until prosecutors prove otherwise. Force can be lawfully deployed in response to real fears, even if these are not borne out in the end, and even if they arise unreasonably. The boundaries of "reasonable" are defined commonsensically. The law is explicit: those called on to defend themselves "may not be able to weigh to a nicety the exact measure of necessary action", which is legalise for saying that decent people can lose control in the heat of the moment.

These safeguards are so tough that it is tricky to go beyond them without licensing extra-judicial executions.


Perhaps this was not Chris Graylng's finest hour. (Let us leave to another day the conundrum as to what his finest hour was).

Yet there was something else to worry close Graylng watchers.

This may have been another fact-free piece of headline grabbing, but where was the pop culture reference?

After The Wire, Shameless and Jeremy Kyle, these have become widely celebrated as a Chris Grayling hallmark.

Few of his colleagues have demonstrated even half of his productivity in putting the zeitgeist type to use. This was surely an ideal opportunity to extend his range. And yet nothing.

Next Left is deeply troubled by the idea that criticism of his popular touch may now be putting Grayling off his game. We will be sending him a bumper edition of the Radio Times for Christmas in the hope that we can yet get the old Chris Grayling back in 2010.

1 comment:

Soho Politico said...

I had not kept up with this sotry, after Grayling's initial comments, to know that the reaction, even from some rightwing media outlets, had been so generally lukewarm to critical. Heartening.