Wednesday 7 April 2010

Where's Chris Grayling? Tories fail to learn Letwin's lesson

It seems to have become something of a British General Election tradition that a senior Tory should, on saying something inconvenient for the party, go into hiding during a General Election campaign.

In 2001, that was then deputy Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin, with Chancellor Gordon Brown among those calling for his release - "Let Letwin speak. We should free the Dorset One!" - as Letwin went to ground.

In 2010, it appears that Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling is now planning to be rather less visible even than George Osborne.

The cerebral Letwin later admitted that going into hiding was a mistake, reflecting on it six months later in a New Statesman interview with Mary Riddell, though hinting that it may have been a bad judgement call by then leader William Hague.

Oliver Letwin's office rings to say he is running five minutes late. The call seems courteous but unnecessary, unless the shadow home secretary fears that any minor delay on his part may signify a relapse into his Macavity habit. During the general election campaign, Letwin inadvertently disclosed that the Tories were aiming for a £20bn tax cut by 2006. Then he disappeared. Though the groomed farmland of his West Dorset constituency is not to be compared with an Afghan cavescape, the bunker-busters of the media failed to dislodge Letwin. Posters went up. Rewards were offered. The episode was, as he now acknowledges, a terrible blunder.

"I learnt two lessons from it. The first is that I shall never again in my life give any interview unless it's on the record. And second, if anything I say ever again becomes the subject of huge interest, I shall be in front of the television cameras in 30 milliseconds." So why did he agree to hide? Was it, perhaps, because William Hague ordered him to? "I am going to maintain a total silence," he says virtuously.

Yet there is little sign that Letwin's lesson has been learnt by his party.

David Cameron has still said nothing about Chris Grayling's comments about B&B owners having the right to bar gay couples. The Tory frontbench have sought to avoid commenting on the story in the hope it will go away.

And the now surely ex-future Home Secretary appears to be nowhere to be seen.

Free the Epsom One!

PS: Tamsin Omond, an independent candidate in Hampstead, and Peter Tatchell are offering to throw David Cameron a gay pride party to help him to break his silence on the Chris Grayling episode and come out for gay rights.

This week, Peter Tatchell and I aim to meet with David Cameron. If he has time to explain his party's stance on gay rights, then we give him that opportunity. If he will not, then we're taking gay pride to him.

Dave, we're throwing you a coming out party this Sunday 11th. You can either come out as someone who will actively support gay rights, or someone who will not. You say your proudest moment was getting people to listen to the Conservatives again. Isn't it time that you gave us more than words.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Grayling has been missing for a while - he didn't turn up to an expats meeting in Amsterdam 3 weeks ago. Didn't even call or e-mail to say that he wasn't coming. He doesn't realise that most of the expats can choose where we vote, and of course we have chosen for the marginals. Bye bye Tories.