What to expect from the new Justice Secretary?

2. Gove 2The appointment of Michael Gove as Justice Secretary was one of Cameron’s more interesting appointments following the general election.  Not least because Mr Gove had previously been demoted to Chief whip, a decision seen by some as a reflection of the mess he had made during his time as Education Secretary. But can we expect the same from him with the Justice portfolio?

Aside from the fact that yet again the Justice Secretary has no legal background, there are many political commentators that believe Gove could be the reformist that the justice system, and especially the prison system, needs right now as it tries to drag itself along after the devastating ‘reforms’ that Chis Grayling imposed.

Keeping an open mind

Whilst it has been widely reported that Gove once wrote an article defending the death penalty, this may not be a true reflection of his politics around justice. In The Guardian on 20 May 2015, Ian Birrell compares his appointment with Texas in America where the Conservatives have unleashed a revolution of reforms on crime and justice, cutting crime and the cost of incarceration. Whilst Napo would clearly have significant issues with moving even further towards an Americanised justice system, Texas has proved that good use of evidence based probation intervention can actually reduce reoffending and costs dramatically.

There is certainly no love lost between the two men. Known for their shared strong ambitions in politics, Gove and Grayling are viewed by many as big rivals and no doubt Gove will be grateful for being given a second crack at the whip while Grayling is put out of harm’s way as Leader of the House of Commons. John McDonnell said that although the two are similar, their approach can be very different. We are hopeful that Gove will at least engage with the unions, something that Grayling never did; and as Mark Leftly from the Independent said: ‘We may not like what he does but it will at least make more sense.’
Getting MoJ back on track?

Graylings’ mess

Gove should be as angered and energised about Justice as he was about failing schools. That, combined with his right wing credentials and the need to make his mark, could see him review the whole system in the coming year. If nothing else he won’t want Grayling’s mess on his hands and that could see him moving to a more liberal reformist position to get his new department back on track.

Or maybe that’s being too kind and we should take heed of Frankie Boyle’s analysis in The Guardian on 1 June 2015: ‘That Gove is to Cameron as Robin was to Batman; someone to take the hits while Cameron gets on with the job. The distraction for the robbery that will take place elsewhere through welfare cuts and the planned Transatlantic Treaty Agreement (TTIP). Somewhere between a sardonic trolling of the justice system and a simple misdirection.’

Only time will tell which route Gove will take and what the real purpose of his appointment is. Needless to say Napo will be monitoring his performance closely and making sure that our members (the people who actually know what they are doing) are heard.

Tania Bassett

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