Kenneth Clarke’s singular deportment and affable manner have served to obscure the skeletons in a voluminous ministerial cupboard.
Though widely considered a success as John Major’s chancellor, two decades ago he was an architect of the ruinous Private Finance Initiative. Clarke also began the process of marketising the NHS.
Of course, one can argue that these policies were seized upon with even greater gusto by New Labour. The adage that the worst job in government is the one Clarke has just vacated is, surely, a tad unfair. As justice secretary, Clarke’s trademark insouciance made him ideal for the job of dismantling legal aid in the face of bitter opposition. Yet many will agree David Cameron’s decision to hobble his ‘rehabilitation revolution’ was an opportunity missed.
So what of Clarke’s successor? Chris Grayling is not a lawyer but a former television newshound turned corporate spinner. Unlike Clarke, he is no small ‘l’ liberal, even though he was once in the SDP. Expect tabloid-friendly rhetoric on crime – while shadow home secretary he once compared part of the UK to ‘The Wire’, a US TV show about drug gangs. But Grayling’s touch is not always sure. The shadow of his comments about B&B owners turning away gay people are thought to have slowed his progress.
Grayling is no europhile either, so expect a much more robust line on the European Court of Human Rights in particular.