Reshuffle stories are a bit of a nightmare to deal with. The press write whatever they want, the broadcasters blather away about it, the ministers get a bit jumpy, the ones being tipped for promotion get jumpy in a different sort of way, and all the Downing Street media operation can do is say nothing.
So a year plus in, the fact that David Cameron can count in the dozens rather than the thousands the speculative stories about his next Cabinet must count as something of a news management success.
When such stories do appear, they tend to have the names Lansley and Clarke in there. My hunch – based on no knowledge at all – is that the latter may be more at risk than the former. Too many Tories appear to be going around the place saying the Justice Secretary is more of a Lib Dem than the Lib Dems.
I imagine that in such circumstances the last thing Ken Clarke would welcome is any support from me, but I will give it nonetheless. The Strangeways documentary series on ITV is the latest evidence I cite in support of his desire to take a different approach on prisons to the hang’em and flog’em brigade as represented by the right wing media. He knows that some people have to be locked up very securely to protect the public and to atone for their crimes. But he knows too that many in prison will just keep on returning unless their mental health issues are properly addressed.
As I watched the second part last night, I was wondering whether when in Number 10 I would have encouraged the Home Office to give the go-ahead for such a frank, warts and all account of life inside one of Britain’s toughest jails. There will certainly have been a lot of discussions about it, and probably strong views on either side.
But though the films have shown up problems galore, I think it was the right thing to do, not least to show what a difficult job the prison officers and medical staff do. Some of the nursing staff last night were like saints.
It also does highlight, without any pushing of an agenda, the extent to which mental health issues are so prevalent in the prison population.
Shining a light on that, however harsh and however upsetting and depressing the impact might be, at least allows people to make more informed judgements about issues many would rather never have to think about.
It is very easy for right-wing papers and Tory MPs keen to please them to paint a simple picture. It is to Ken Clarke’s credit that he knows things are more complicated than that, and would be to David Cameron’s credit to give him time to try to make real change, hard though it will be with cuts and media opinion not exactly working in his favour.
*** As the big build up to the major sporting event of the weekend continues – namely the Football Focus predictions league table play-off between me and Alan Sugar, my old pals at the Beeb can barely contain their excitement. Dan Walker of the BBC has already put up part of our end of season discussions, and you can see me and Lord S in discussion on West Ham, Tottenham, and what makes Alex Ferguson the greatest manager of all time here