The Justice Minister Chris Grayling is not a popular chap amongst lawyers. One of Twitter’s legal elder statesmen (I refer to his gravitas and good sense rather than his age) observed last week that we should not direct our fire at Grayling the man. Many people, he said, hate lawyers and (he implied) Grayling is is riding a wave approved by the many. That is right, or at least is not wrong. There are good reasons, however, why Grayling is disliked personally. The man who relished the role as Conservative “attack dog” whilst in opposition, particularly for his onslaught on Labour sleaze, is not a man who wants to be liked. The fact that he was fiddling his expenses even as he criticised Labour does not help any assessment of his character.
When I say that he “fiddling his expenses” I mean, of course, by our standards, the standards of ordinary, decent people who watch with contempt but no surprise as MPs slurp from the trough of taxpayers’ money. Grayling has taken full advantage, and apparently a little bit more, of the benign and self-serving regime under which Members of Parliament buy and develop houses at our expense and keep the profit for themselves, whilst a supine and inept regulator signs off the expenses with alacrity, particularly if the claimant is a minister with a reputation for personal unpleasantness. If any of the rest of us dipped our fingers into public funds in this way – a benefit claimant for example – we would be off to serve time inside. As the greedy and dislikable Maria Miller went down in flames, new attention focused on Grayling’s own property dealings at our expense. This article in the current edition of Private Eye has the details.
It was not, perhaps, the best week for Grayling to pay a visit to Brixton Prison to admire the kitchens. I put it this way on Twitter:
Grayling’s offence is not his hypocritical attacks on Labour or his attacks on lawyers, but the damage he is doing to both civil and criminal justice. Giving him the Justice portfolio was like putting a precious vase into the hands of an ape. It was bound to get broken, and it is being broken.