A good barrister will always keep his options open. And the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, has the letters Q and C at the end of his name, so he must be a good barrister.
During an event this morning Cox laid out the case both for his continuation as Attorney General, while also hyping himself up as a potential chair of the government’s upcoming constitutional review. He told the crowd:
‘Have I had enough of the job [of AG]? let me make plain, absolutely not. This has been one of the greatest – in fact, the greatest – honour of my political life…
‘If you gave me the opportunity to continue, I would embrace it eagerly. But equally, if it is not to be, well then there are other doorways that will open for me.’
Cox has widely been seen as vulnerable after the government suffered a number of high-profile defeats on the basis of his legal advice. At one point he even joked, ‘I have been expecting to leave this office every month I have been in it’. But he has also been seen by some as a potential head of the government’s constitutional review.
Cox seems to have grasped this dilemma, lamenting the lack of high-ranking lawyers in parliament who would be able to take on the role of Attorney General:
‘One of the problems that we have at the moment is that our political life is not, as it once used to, attracting senior professionals from the legal profession.’
‘I do think that those of us who are senior at the bar ought to consider whether or not, in the spirit of public service, politics is a sphere that they should go into. Because the Attorney General and the Solicitor General’s roles do depend on people of weight and seniority in the profession being willing to go into politics.’
Is Cox implying that only he has the ‘weight and seniority’ to carry on with his cabinet role?
Either way, Cox also set out his stall for the chairmanship of the government’s upcoming constitutional review, articulating the scope of the reforms that he would like to see. He told the audience:
‘Out in the country, there is a concern about whether or not democratically accountable decisions, that ought to be taken by democratically accountable politicians, are in fact being taken by those who are not elected.’
‘I do think there is a question, now, of whether or not the judicialisation of politics requires some amelioration, some changing of the balance and whether it has gone too far. I think there is a feeling that it might have done so.’
The country, according to Cox, is suffering ‘a disconnection between ordinary people and their votes and what happens here in Westminster’.
So how might a Cox commission deal with this disconnect? He said he is partial to a British bill of rights, replacing the current human rights legislation brought in under New Labour:
‘You could, at last, marry up the affection of the British people for its own bill of rights. I don’t actually think that, save amoung certain circles, the convention [on human rights] attracts the same affection, do you? I think probably not. But when we speak of our own Bill of Rights, from the 17th Century, there is a genuine affection for it.
‘So if we could produce that sense of ownership of the ordinary people for their bill of rights then I think that would be a hugely constructive thing to do.’
Such suggestions are likely to go down well with the Tory faithful. And while he rejected the idea of a US appointments system for judges (an idea some on the radical wing of the Conservative party have flirted with), Cox suggested a more moderate reform: a joint committee of the Commons and the Lords that would interview potential Supreme Court justices, not unlike the Canadian system.
Cox was at pains to emphasise that he was not proposing government policy on the fly. Instead, the AG was merely expressing the need for ‘serious consultation’ by exploring potential reforms. But while some have speculated that Cox might prefer a return to life juggling the backbenches and the bar, today’s event suggests a man who is not quite ready to leave the cut and thrust of national politics behind.