For the past few weeks Tory Police and Crime Commissioner candidates have been soaking up the reflected glory of a meeting with Police Minister Nick Herbert here, or a photo opp with Party Chairman Baroness Warsi there. It always struck me as curious, this rush to have your photo taken with people who only political anoraks really recognise (well, less so Warsi because of the whole Nick Griffin thing). Acting like you are best mates with someone important is however one of the few ways of getting your picture in the local paper.
Not a huge number have been queuing for a photo with Ken Clarke as his Criminal justice policies weren't pitched out on Tory home ground and, as many candidates are personally unknown, they must hold on to a fair degree of hope that the Conservatives' traditional lead on 'Law and Order' might one day provide sufficient wind in their sails to see them home.
The cameras will now have to click again, to capture candidates with new 'right-wing' Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, newly notorious Party Chairman Grant Shapps, and a Police Minister more known for having had his collar felt, Damian Green.
This may seem odd timing, clearing out key Ministers a few weeks before a near-enough national election on a key policy, but reshuffles suffer the same malady as most elections – they are about everything, not just crime.
However, the loss of Nick Herbert entirely from the government will seem odd. An article in the Spectator gives us the first clue, citing “frustration at a lack of support for radicalism”, and a 'friend' saying that Number 10 and CCHQ have done ‘close to f all’ to help on PCCs, leaving the Conservatives with a set of underwhelming candidates, and citing an “extremely tense relationship with Theresa May”.
All those Tory candidates may not be treasuring those photos quite so much after that description.
If you read again the combination of the TopOfTheCops enquiry into the Home Secretary's secret meeting with Simon Weston, and what Michael Crick had learnt around the same issue, you will see a reference to Theresa May and Nick Herbert not speaking. This lies behind the embarassment of the Home Secretary getting the law wrong on PCCs and prior criminal history, while her Minister in charge of the policy clearly knew the right answers if only he had been asked for them.
So why has he gone, while she remains?
Well, here's one theory for the first half of that question:-
A little while before the election Nick Herbert was Shadow Justice Secretary, before a short time shadowing DEFRA. As the election approached, Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling got into trouble for saying that B&B owners should be able to decide who stays in their own homes, making him perhaps not as credible a marcher at Gay Pride events this last weekend as Mr Herbert perhaps is.
Then the election did not go as expected and the Coalition produced not as many Cabinet positions as would have been hoped, and both Mr Herbert and Mr Grayling find themselves one rung down on the ladder. Mr Cameron turns out not to be fond of reshuffles, and it looks like yesterday was to be the one big chance to move into the Cabinet. On Monday night, Justice Secretary was offered to Iain Duncan-Smith, who says 'no thanks', opening up an opportunity for promotion for a second-tier Minister…
…which goes to, of all people, Chris Grayling. Finding out that you are really now at best the fourth choice for a job you shadowed before the election, and worse, that everybody else knows it, has got to be a bit of a kick in the teeth. And he's gone.
While we break the habit of a lifetime and indulge in wild speculation it may be a good time to ask what is the 'support' and 'help' Nick Herbert was looking for from government on PCCs. In June I had the chance to ask him a question, and the answer he gave dwelt heavily on his desire to see impressive Independent candidates, even if it bothered people in his own party. I had asked about 'big candidates'. I hadn't mentioned Independents and there was no need to roam into that territory, but he did. And two weeks ago, in the Today programme, a lack of free mailshots and questions on turnout made for a Chloe-Smith-style car crash – the sort where the innocent victim reluctantly accepts the role of crash test dummy because someone more senior has already set in motion the crashing of the car.
Is it possible that, all this time, Mr Herbert has been trying to get free mailshots or a booklet full of candidate statements for his flagship policy, and that someone more senior has said no? I wonder what other innovations may have been turned down, and what Mr Green and Mr Shapps will do to address the difficulties Herbert seems to be admitting the Conservatives are having with their candidates.
I also wonder, with Jon Harvey, following the PM interview that pretty much proves that Theresa May discussed a move to another post, just what is it that gives her such power over the PM?
Humm – Herbert gone. Apathy rampant. Would it be better to carry on and suffer the criticism that will ensue when the vote turns into the farce? Or perhaps U turn and take the criticism early. A self inflicted wound either way.
NICK HERBERT needs 2 years away from the government boxes before he can take up any linked directorships, G4S for exampe, after the next election.
Good point – this leaves him well positioned when he and his party get kicked out in 2015!
I see that the Government is suggesting that a 27% turnout makes a vote invalid. I can see that coming back to bite them.