Why Cameron must remove Grayling

If Cameron wants to prove that he has changed more than just the Tories' poll ratings, Grayling must

It looks like the Tories have ridden out the row over Chris Grayling's extraordinary defence of the right of B&B owners to turn away gay couples. But the fear that the "Nasty Party" still lives and breathes has been implanted in the mind of every floating voter.

The Conservatives' attempt to defend their shadow home secretary, claiming that his words were merely a recollection of his previous opinion, does not hold water. Instead, the only credible option, as Chris Cook, a former Tory economics adviser, argues in the Financial Times, is for David Cameron to sack Grayling.

If the Tory leader is to dispel the suspicion that his modernisation of the party was a purely tactical manoeuvre, designed to reconstruct the election-winning machine of old, then there is no alternative.

Grayling's comments are unacceptable for two essential reasons. First, as both Johann Hari and Peter Tatchell point out, had Grayling supported discrimination against black or Jewish couples, Cameron would not have hesistated to sack him. To suggest that different standards apply to gay couples is merely to replicate his original sin.

Second, this man, who hopes and expects to become home secretary in a few weeks' time, in effect suggested that it was acceptable for people to break the law. It would now be risible for Cameron to allow him to take charge of the Home Office.

In fact, it is now likely that Grayling will be disposed of quietly, or at least demoted, after the election. As I've pointed out before, his serial gaffes (that comparison of Britain with The Wire, his unwitting attack on General Richard Dannatt's appointment, the manipulation of crime statistics) made him a vulnerable figure long ago.

Still, if Cameron wants to prove that he has changed more than his party's poll ratings, Grayling must go now.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What will Labour's new awkward squad do next?

What does the future hold for the party's once-rising-stars?

For years, Jeremy Corbyn was John McDonnell’s only friend in Parliament. Now, Corbyn is the twice-elected Labour leader, and McDonnell his shadow chancellor. The crushing leadership election victory has confirmed Corbyn-supporting MPs as the new Labour elite. It has also created a new awkward squad.   

Some MPs – including some vocal critics of Corbyn – are queuing up to get back in the shadow cabinet (one, Sarah Champion, returned during the leadership contest). Chi Onwurah, who spoke out on Corbyn’s management style, never left. But others, most notably the challenger Owen Smith, are resigning themselves to life on the back benches. 

So what is a once-rising-star MP to do? The most obvious choice is to throw yourself into the issue the Corbyn leadership doesn’t want to talk about – Brexit. The most obvious platform to do so on is a select committee. Chuka Umunna has founded Vote Leave Watch, a campaign group, and is running to replace Keith Vaz on the Home Affairs elect committee. Emma Reynolds, a former shadow Europe minister, is running alongside Hilary Benn to sit on the newly-created Brexit committee. 

Then there is the written word - so long as what you write is controversial enough. Rachel Reeves caused a stir when she described control on freedom of movement as “a red line” in Brexit negotiations. Keir Starmer is still planning to publish his long-scheduled immigration report. Alison McGovern embarked on a similar tour of the country

Other MPs have thrown themselves into campaigns, most notably refugee rights. Stella Creasy is working with Alf Dubs on his amendment to protect child refugees. Yvette Cooper chairs Labour's refugee taskforce.

The debate about whether Labour MPs should split altogether is ongoing, but the warnings of history aside, some Corbyn critics believe this is exactly what the leadership would like them to do. Richard Angell, deputy director of Progress, a centrist group, said: “Parts of the Labour project get very frustrated that good people Labour activists are staying in the party.”

One reason to stay in Labour is the promise of a return of shadow cabinet elections, a decision currently languishing with the National Executive Committee. 

But anti-Corbyn MPs may still yet find their ability to influence policies blocked. Even if the decision goes ahead, the Corbyn leadership is understood to be planning a root and branch reform of party institutions, to be announced in the late autumn. If it is consistent with his previous rhetoric, it will hand more power to the pro-Corbyn grassroots members. The members of Labour's new awkward squad have seized on elections as a way to legitimise their voices. But with Corbyn in charge, they might get more democracy than they bargained for.