PRISONS Minister Rory Stewart risks becoming a hostage to fortune with his well-meaning promise to resign in a year’s time if his campaign to tackle violence and drugs in struggling jails, including Leeds, does not make a positive difference.
He must hope that his words do not unwittingly embolden convicted criminals to risk the safety of prison governors, and staff, so they can enjoy the notoriety of claiming the scalp of one of the Government’s more intelligent thinkers.
This is certainly not the intentions of Mr Stewart who first came to public prominence in 2003 as a diplomat on the ground in Iraq who was tasked with dealing with the fallout from the US and UK-led invasion.
Yet, as Mr Stewart tries to reform Britain’s prisons and, in doing so, tackle the cycle of reoffending which is proving so costly to society, his candour, and willingness to be judged by results, will be welcomed by those who lament a complacent political culture where Ministers are, invariably, rewarded for policy failure with an undeserved promotion.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Minister is still in post in a year’s time – many think a man of his ability, and integrity, should already be in the Cabinet and there are many unanswered questions about the durability of Theresa May’s government.
Nevertheless his principled actions set an important precedent that others could follow. For, while such statesmanship is clearly beyond Chris Grayling, there’s no reason why a future Transport Secretary’s ability to do the job should be judged by the overall performance of the nation’s train operators.