You can tell when Michael Gove is driving all over another one of the policies of his predecessor Chris Grayling purely by the volume of incredibly polite language and fulsome praise that he deploys when doing so. In a written ministerial statement published today, the Justice Secretary announces that he will not be going ahead with major changes to the legal aid system designed by Grayling when he was Justice Secretary. The statement says the following:
I would like to place on the record my gratitude for the determined, yet sensitive, way in which my predecessors pursued these economies.
Gove also praises the ‘careful negotiation’ that Grayling carried out on the changes. Those changes involve a process for awarding legal aid contracts, known as the ‘dual contracting’ system, which Gove is scrapping, and a 8.75 per cent cut to legal aid, which Gove is suspending.
The new Justice Secretary has taken great care to praise his predecessor every time he reverses another one of his policies, from the ‘book ban’ for prisoners to the Saudi prison contract to today’s legal aid U-turn. But I understand that Number 10 was keen for Gove to clear up a few problems in the department, which he has set about doing.
It’s not entirely fair to say that today’s legal aid U-turn is the end of a mess engineered by Chris Grayling, though. Both the minister and his own predecessor Ken Clarke were simply carrying out cuts that the Treasury had ordered them to make, and there seems to have been a serious failure of scrutiny from MPs of these reforms, too. Perhaps the greatest lesson Gove can learn from the changes he has had to make since moving to the Ministry of Justice is that just because MPs seem rather docile about a policy, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work in the wild.