Nearly 48 hours after the reshuffle started, Downing Street has finally named the prisons minister. Andrew Selous, MP for South West Bedfordshire, got the job. The rumours are that Jeremy Wright, who was made attorney-general, was originally asked to stay on but he refused. I've never rated Wright, but some estimable figures in penal reform think he's a decent enough man hamstrung by the inadequacies of his boss.
Then they offered the job to Shailesh Vara, the justice minister who recently led Ministry of Justice (MoJ) efforts to deny legal aid to anyone who'd been in the UK less than a year – a move the high court ruled unlawful yesterday. He turned it down. And apparently they don't trust Liberal Democrat justice minister Simon Hughes enough to do it. That's probably for good reason. Hughes is being lobbied to put some distance between himself and his Tory colleagues before the general election.
So they've settled on Selous, a man whose only contribution to public life is to have highlighted the inadequacy of his politics in the very sentence he used to express them. Back in June last year, the Tory MP decided to tell the world that he believed immigrants should not have access to benefits unless they show they're learning English. One is grateful the same rule was not applied to him, because he was unable to spell 'learn' correctly. To quote it in full:
"Strongly support the loss of benefits unless claimants lean English."
The tweet made him the butt of jokes on Twitter for the rest of the day. It was probably the most widely viewed tweet he ever wrote. He was rated the sixth worst MP on Twitter in our annual awards last year.
Selous doesn't seem to have any background on justice or prison issues. I searched his personal website for both terms and got nothing back on his brief, apart from one post where he celebrated Labybird's book donations for Fathers' Story Week, a Fatherhood Institute campaign which gets fathers to read to their kids. It aims to get fathers and children spending time together in "schools, children's centres, libraries and" – wait for it – "prisons".
Selous' commitment to prisoners getting an opportunity to read to their children will presumably mean that he opposes Chris Grayling's prisoner book ban. I wouldn't count on it though.
In parliamentary answers to shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, Wright revealed that he either wilfully or due to incompetence knew very little about what's going on in prisons. Downing Street appears to have found the only man who knows less to replace him. Grayling will chalk that up as a victory.Then we learn this from the Independent:-
A senior aide to Iain Duncan Smith was accused last night of threatening to “shut down” Britain’s main provider of food banks, in a bitter row over allegations of the “politicisation of poverty”.
Chris Mould, chair of the Trussell Trust, told The Independent that he had been warned during a private conversation that the “Government might try to shut you down” over its public campaigning on the plight of people unable to feed themselves or their families.
While Mr Mould would not reveal the identity of the person concerned, The Independent understands from sources that it was the Conservative MP Andrew Selous, parliamentary private secretary to Mr Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary.
However last night Mr Selous strongly denied having been the individual concerned. “Your allegation is wholly false, I’ve never said that. And I actually helped set up a Trussell Trust food bank in my constituency. ”Details of the encounter, which allegedly took place in March last year, were given in evidence to the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector earlier this week.