Last year, ahead of the Brexit poll, this column speculated about Michael Gove’s likely ejection from the Ministry of Justice after what had been a brief but generally well-received spell as lord chancellor.
We noted then this could spell the demise of his much-heralded ‘rehabilitation revolution’ – a revolution previously aborted in 2012 when David Cameron sacked Ken Clarke.
History did indeed repeat itself and, as we report this week, has seemingly done so again after Liz Truss made prison reform the centrepiece of her 11-month tenure.
New lord chancellor David Lidington tried to pre-empt the absence of prison reform from the Queen’s speech with an unusual ‘open letter’ on the subject, insisting rehabilitation remains a priority.
Not all were convinced – including HM chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke, who was ‘very disappointed’ by the omission.
Clarke’s bemusement is understandable. Prison reform enjoys cross-party support and the prime minister was already struggling to beef up a legislative programme described by one commentator as ‘thin gruel’.
Perhaps the beleaguered Conservatives believe they should revert to type on law and order, traditionally a core strength. But Lidington will be under pressure to deliver regardless. Prisons and probation cost nearly £4bn a year and his department is facing an ongoing budget squeeze.