While many folk of my acquaintance think Chris Grayling to be a horse’s arse, this is grossly unfair and demonstrably untrue. He is simply another from the Camerlot stable of two-headed horses gaily galloping in two opposite directions at the same time. The result is that he remains, shaking, snorting, and steaming – but rooted to precisely the place he started from.
Last week in the Commons, Chris railed against criminals getting short sentences, setting forward a chart showing how longer sentences offer a better chance of prisoners not reoffending. In fact, most of these cases relate to blokes being given longer rehabilitation programmes while in prison: they don’t have to be banged up in a cell every night for that to happen. But Mr Grayling would have us believe this is all straight from the horse’s mouth, so there you are: short sharp shocks are just so yesterday daaarling, do try to keep up with the Blue Rinse’s progress re this one.
This week, however, Chris Grayling demonstrated that two heads aren’t always better than one, when he promptly announced the closure of seven jails. In doing this, mind you, the Minister went a fair way down the path of proving that two heads are worse than none, or that he is simply headless – whichever strikes you as most likely. I’m torn myself, but I think on balance that even if you’re the owner of seven horse-heads, it’s unlikely to make much difference: they’re still horse-heads full of hay fantasies and not a lot else. The aggregate addition of intelligence is unlikely to be significant.
His ‘wriggle room’ on this one was that, although the closures meant a net loss of 1500 places, he had “unveiled the programme after a stabilisation of the prison population left the service with a spare capacity of some 5,000 spaces”. Presumably because some of those serving long sentences were let out early, the better to let them offend again.
Nobody knows (or could tell me when I asked) which Tardis-based technology Grayling has been developing during his time in office, but this omnidirectional approach to policy is far from unique in the magical kingdom of Camerlot. The syndrome is handed down from the man at the top, on whose two heads the crown rests uneasily – as indeed any singleton crown would. King Dave it was, you will recall, who fired every squaddie in the British army, and then ordered the General Staff to invade Libya. The priceless riposte from one senior officer (“What with exactly, Prime Minister?”) was richly deserved, but passed way above the essentially low brow of Mr Cameron’s noddle.
David Cameron’s neighbour Draper Osborne indulges in the same sort of horse-play with our money, taking it away with one hand to the tune of £18bn and counting, and then letting Mervo the Magician chuck £400bn at
the banks the economy…in a last vain attempt to revive it by urinating into the money-lake wherein it drowned. And just down the road at the Home Office, Theresa May (now fully identified as a daft mare) spent much of 2011 clamping down on terrorist immigrants via the counter-intuitive medium of relaxing border controls. She’s not good on a slippy surface, and on the whole prefers firmer going. Except that with two heads, of course, she is far from being a safe bet to stay the course. Staying still seems more likely.
At Conservative Home recently, Tim Montgomerie tried to lay out the “tortuous process” of Camerlot’s elucidation of policy direction, and came down at something like “Right-wing with a heart”. But shifting animal parallels for a sec here, a Party with a heart misplaced in its one working wing isn’t likely to get off the ground: perhaps two wings and a heart in the right place would be preferable. I couldn’t possibly comment, because I’m not and never have been a Tory. The fact remains, most voters are baffled and confused about WTF Dave stands for, and what Camerlot as a whole wants to achieve. They’re not alone: the 1922 Committee, the Barclay Brothers, the old Shires bastards and several of the PM’s Cabinet colleagues have the same problem.
Their confusion is understandable. Dave is for the small guy and the big society. He’s for universal privilege, which is an oxymoron – apt from a moron who somehow made it to Oxford. He wants to give the police more freedom to tackle crime by putting a politician on Plod’s head. He wants in to a sort of European Union dance whereby he opts the right leg out, puts the left oar in, he keeps the Poundy-woundy and he turns about, but we don’t know what it’s all about, ooooooooh okey-okey cokey.
There is of course a degree of classic Cameron cunning in being the two-headed horse: if someone accuses him of doing something, he can point to the fact that he’s also doing the opposite. This is a step on from Blairism, when Tony said he’d do something but then didn’t bother. When asked where the pcs on every school desk were, he got other people to say they were moving forward on it, taking the temperature, assessing the budgets and listening hard. It never failed to impress, and it never achieved anything.
On occasion, the back-forth-up-down-small-big-fat-thin persona evinced by the Prime Minister serves him very well indeed, in that critics are so busy dealing with the first bit of crass simile, they miss the dissimilarity of the second simile, and then forget what sounded similar about the first simile. “I’m in favour of a level playing field and a leg up,” he’s inclined to say, adding, “For getting stuck in and being the referee who, you know, scores the vital goals, and keeps telling the other chaps to roll up their socks.” To further bamboozle, while doing this Dave curves his hand and makes a planing motion, which could stand for steering the ship safely into harbour, or then again be simply him directing the listener towards a point where his ownership of two horse’s heads is less painfully obvious.
So Blair talked but didn’t do. Cameron talks out of two heads and doesn’t move. The result is still exactly the same: nothing in the way of effective policy emerges, and no direction is visible to those looking on from the grandstand. It is the way of contemporary politics, in that the entire process is idea and solution-free. No winning post is defined by either distance or direction. The only advantage perceived inside the Prime Minister’s essentially devious mind is that, while at one end of the horse it looks like we came in last, he can go to the other end and say no, you’re wrong – we came first. It’s what passes in Camerlot for horse-sense, but merely passes the explosive parcel onto the next generation. And outside the Westminster bubble, it passes all understanding.