The Week In Politics: A bookish backlash
If there was one thing we learned this week, it was this: the readers of Politics.co.uk do not think banning prisoners from receiving books is a particularly good policy.
This has not, it's fair to say, been a normal week for us. The extraordinary kerfuffle which accompanied an article condemning justice secretary Chris Grayling's policy created a political controversy which, so far, hasn't faded away. The Ministry of Justice ends the week quite a bit less popular than it was at the start.
It was Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform whose comment piece kicked it all off. "From now on, any man, woman or child in prison will not be able to receive a book from outside," she wrote. "This is part of an increasingly irrational punishment regime orchestrated by Chris Grayling that grabs headlines but restricts education or rehabilitation." Grayling's response was to argue, in a response also published on Politics.co.uk, that it's simply not true that prisoners are banned from books outright. Of course not – as the prime minister's spokesperson told us on Wednesday, the government has a statutory obligation to do so. What Grayling failed to realise is that this is about preventing prisoners from committing further crimes. Rehabilitation, not punishment. If prisoners are really to embrace reading, they should be able to rely on more than just the yellow-paged, limited supply in the prison library.
The week which followed turned into a template crash-course in opposition politics. Grayling's shadow Sadiq Khan quickly provided an article for us making clear why he believes Grayling is off the mark. A host of Britain's leading literary figures clubbed together to challenge the ban in a letter to a national newspaper. Yesterday evening Khan delivered a speech at IPPR in which he made clear that a Labour government would reverse the ban. With Downing Street backing Grayling to the hilt, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy led a poetry protest outside Pentonville Prison. The campaign continues, with the Howard League masterminding a wave of #shelfie pics that are now all over Twitter.
There was other news, of course. The big political story of the week was the first EU debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. In the spin room – a glitzy London ballroom infested with television cameras that looked suspiciously like it was preparing for a disco the moment all the hacks had cleared out – both sides dispensed with the usual victory claims and instead proclaimed a triumph for democracy.
They were right. Wednesday evening saw the country's press forget about the two parties which have dominated Westminster's stale political culture for decades. In their place were two politicians who had utterly different views about a fundamentally important issue. This deserved attention. And with the European elections now less than two months away, these exchanges really mattered.
This was also a week for big energy news. The Scottish independence referendum was all about North Sea oil; prime minister's questions was all about Ed Miliband gloating over David Cameron about SSE's decision to implement a price freeze; and the Big Six faced a big inquiry from the Competition Commission. We spoke to energy bosses at a conference for hand-wringing in central London. The wailing was unstoppable.
The week ends with another important issue emerging: the government's brutal suppression of judicial reviews. This is basically about ministers making it easier for them to break laws. Sound important? Well, it is – and we'll be covering it in full, as well as all the news about the ongoing prisoner book ban row, in full. Until then, it's weekend time…