In a week when I thought the most controversial event in politics was going to be an attempted backbench rebellion against the government’s Defence Reform Bill, I couldn’t have been more wrong. That event was pipped at the post by some spectacularly misguided comments made by the hitherto very sensible Attorney General, the Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve QC MP. Politicians are often criticised for not being honest, but as Mr Grieve discovered at the weekend, a little honesty can be a dangerous thing.
I like Dominic Grieve. He is not, and does not try to be, a celebrity politician. He rarely catches the press’s attention and quietly gets on with the difficult job of being the government’s chief legal adviser, a position once described by a previous incumbent as “to be in hell”, in a reference to the notoriously heavy workload of the office. I had recently heard Grieve described as ‘a safe pair of hands’, so I was as astonished as his colleagues seemed to have been, when in an interview with The Daily Telegraph he went on record as saying that some people in the UK:
“come from societies where they have been brought up to believe you can only get certain things through a favour culture. One of the things you have to make absolutely clear is that that is not the case and it’s not acceptable.”
Digging an apparently deeper hole for himself, he confirmed to the interviewer, Benedict Brogan, that it was “the Pakistani community, not the Indian community” he was talking about. Now in fairness to Grieve, these comments were made in the context of a wide-ranging interview about law and the Europe Union – both of which encompass his professional portfolio. But regardless of the context, no senior mainstream politician has dared to make these kinds of remarks in years, certainly not in public anyway.
As I was surprised by the frankness of the comments, so I was unsurprised when Grieve issued – or was forced to issue – a contradictory statement barely a few hours after the interview was published. The short act of contrition read:
“It is not my view. I believe the Pakistani community has enriched this country a great deal as I know full well from my extensive contact with the community over a number of years. I’m sorry if I have caused any offence.”
Notwithstanding that he’s an MP (for Beaconsfield) and an important member of the government, Dominic Grieve is a career lawyer, rather than a career politician, and this may perhaps account for the gaff. And I believe him to be a decent man too. According to his constituency website Grieve, who was educated at Eton and Oxford, “is a deputy Church Warden… and enjoys boating, scuba-diving, skiing and fell walking in addition to architecture, art and travel. He is married to Caroline who is also a barrister and they have two teenage sons.” None of this points to him being a closet racist with a hatred of his Asian constituents.
The incident however, does prove that race is still a very sensitive topic in British politics and that the ghost of Enoch Powell still continues to haunt the Conservative Party. Indeed, when I re-tweeted a link to Benedict Brogan’s follow-up article which read ‘Dominic Grieve knew what he was saying and was right to say it’, I lost a dozen or so followers in a couple of hours.
My Twitter account seems to have weathered the storm, but regrettably Mr Grieve’s reputation as a safe pair of hands may not.