Michael Gove may have left the Department for Education but he hasn’t lost his reforming zeal. In his Tory conference speech, the Justice Secretary revealed that his inspiration in pursuing criminal justice reforms is Winston Churchill — and not because of his role leading Britain through some of its darkest hours:
‘The man who was, perhaps, our greatest Prime Minister was also a truly great Home Secretary. He argued that there should be “a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man”.’
Highlighting Churchill’s tenure as Home Secretary is an interesting choice, given that his term was notable for sending the army onto the streets of Tonypandy to support to police against striking miners. But the overall message of Gove’s speech was compassion and understanding. Building on what he said at The Good Right dinner earlier this week, he impassionedly argued that prison reform should inspire Tories because ‘social progress has always been a Conservative cause’:
‘We are the party that ended slavery, stopped child labour, reformed conditions in our factories, built decent homes for working people, cleared our cities of pollution, extended the vote to all women, led the fight against fascism, made millions home-owners, defeated Communism, extended educational excellence to all, introduced equal marriage, created more jobs than any other Government in history and introduced the first national living wage.’
With five years (potentially a decade) ahead of being in government, filling the policy void and finding direction is one of the key themes of Tory conference this year. For Gove, his greatest challenge has been put to one side — there was no mention of scrapping the Human Rights Act in his speech. Prison reform is something supporters and opponents of the government can get behind, but Chris Grayling managed to make many enemies thanks to his efforts while serving as Justice Secretary. Gove is treading carefully to avoid the same trap, while still trying to make a difference.