She is a mixed-race woman who grew up on a council estate and was educated away from Oxbridge. Cynics will suggest it was inevitable that Maidstone MP Helen Grant would be parachuted into a ministerial role, despite entering parliament only in 2010.
But is there more to the new justice minister than simply David Cameron trying to tick boxes? Grant is a different breed of Tory MP. Indeed, she could well have been a Labour MP, having switched parties in 2006.
The move, she told the Guardian two years later, was motivated by David Cameron’s call for social justice, to encourage people to try to help others. Thatcher’s child she most certainly is not. Grant’s legal background is instantly impressive, having moved from clinical negligence to set up a family law business that continues to thrive.
The firm has set up free weekly advice clinics through its own dedicated unit called DVLAAN (Domestic Violence Legal Advice and Assistance Network). And she preaches what she practises. Again in the Guardian (and note how the left-wing media are happy to make time for this Tory), this time in 2011, she launched a passionate defence of legal aid ahead of government cuts.
Describing legal aid as the ‘only sword and shield in the armoury’ of vulnerable people, she warned that cases will become ever more ‘unmanageable and unsustainable’. She added: ‘Let us be clear about who these cuts will affect: a third of legal aid clients who have received advice on debt, and a staggering two thirds of those needing advice on benefits, have an illness or disability. It cannot be right that those most in need of support are left without it.’
And yet, Grant did not rise quickly to the corridors of power by opposing the government on such a key element of its justice policy. Indeed, her voting record shows she voted in favour of every element of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
After Jonathan Djanogly, a City lawyer who never truly seemed to grasp the arguments in favour of preserving legal aid, it is refreshing to have a minister with experience on the ground. But legal aid reforms are now unstoppable, and Grant helped to make that happen.
Now she has the chance to influence from the inside and we will see how many of last year’s sentiments still hold true today.
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