There was a time when Tory conferences were all painted in green and David Cameron would skip on stage to sing songs about flowers. Alas, those days are long gone, and the Tories are back to what they do best: 'string 'em up, throw 'em out'. The 2012 Tory conference is quickly becoming a supermarket checklist of populist, pub bore rants: Europe, 'elf and safety, scroungers.
Chris Grayling's speech today will compliment the menu nicely. It will have none of the reasoned, evidence-based moderation of his predecessor, Ken Clarke. The former justice secretary would lumber on stage, with little grace but considerable charisma, and give his audience a simple message. He did not care how rehabilitation was achieved: he would pay by result. It could be army training or lots of hippies sitting around tying flowers together. Either way made no difference to him. The Tory rank-and-file invariably despised Clarke. He did not care.
Grayling will today take the opposite approach and win plaudits in the hall. Evidence will mean nothing to him. In an act of Dali-like genius, the justice secretary will pledge to reform a law he doesn't seem to have read in order to make it more like the law which already exists. It’s like watching a very tedious Terry Gilliam film.
"Being confronted by an intruder in your own home is terrifying, and the public should be in no doubt that the law is on their side," he will say. "That is why I am strengthening the current law. We need to dispel doubts in this area once and for all."
Grayling is correct, we do need to dispel myths. The law is already on the side of the homeowner, who is allowed to use "reasonable" force if they find an intruder. What this phrase does is shunt the entire situation over to the CPS, who decide on a case-by-case basis if there is any crime to answer. They rarely do, because the word "reasonable" is approached from the perspective of the person at the time of the incident, not objectively. If it turns out they overreacted on the basis of fear and desire to save their family, the law still considers it reasonable force.
The law says that whatever "the person honestly and instinctively thought was necessary" constitutes reasonable force.
In short: there is no problem. The law works really quite well. Grayling is pandering to the mid-market tabloids. He intends to allow "disproportionate" force, but not "grossly disproportionate" force. Presumably he will at some point offer us a barren definition between those words.
Grayling's actions are doubly unhealthy for the British family. By making a speech on the subject, only vague references to which will be caught by the average Brit, he further muddies the water on a relatively straightforward issue. Many more will now be under the impression the law does not protect them if someone intrudes into their home. They should be given the respect by a government minister of being told the truth and knowing they can act against burglars or attackers.
Just as dangerous will be those who pay attention to Grayling's speech and conclude they now have carte blanche to commit extreme violence on an intruder. They will find themselves in court, betrayed by their false friends in the government, who use unfounded concerns to consolidate their relationship with the Tory right.
If Grayling had any real concern for British families he would assure them they already have to the right to protect themselves, not peddle disinformation to boost his ministerial career.