Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
7 October 2009

“Tory attack dog bites self“

Chris Grayling's hilarious own goal

By Mehdi Hasan

First, he thought that British cities resembled the blood-strewn, murder-riven US city of Baltimore, Maryland, as depicted in the hit HBO show The Wire, but then admitted that he hadn’t really watched more than a few episodes from the first series. In terms of gun crime, gangs and murders, Baltimore bears no resemblance whatsoever to British cities such as London, Birmingham or Manchester.

Now, the shadow home secretary Chris Grayling has attacked the appointment of General Sir Richard Dannatt, the former head of the army, as an adviser on defence, as being a “political gimmick” — thinking it was Gordon Brown’s appointment, not David Cameron’s.

Here is how the BBC described the hilarious gaffe from the shadow:

Asked if he was being lined up to “be a junior defence minister in a future Tory government” by the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, Mr Grayling — the shadow home secretary — appeared to think it was the Prime Minister, not his own party, who was offering the general a job.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Mr Grayling said he admired Gen Dannatt, but hoped it was not a “political gimmick”: “We’ve seen too many appointments in this government of external people where it’s all been about Gordon Brown’s PR.”

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up

Gordon Brown invited several figures from outside politics to become ministers in his “government of all the talents” when he became PM in 2007.

Later Mr Grayling told the BBC: “It was a misunderstanding in the television studio before I went on air and I misheard the question and I thought this was a government appointment.

“I’m really delighted it’s a Conservative appointment, I wish I had known beforehand.”

One can’t help but agree with Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s response: “What we’ve seen today is that Chris Grayling is so keen to do Britain down, he’ll attack anything — including his own party.” Or as one Tory wag in Manchester brilliantly put it to Sky’s Jon Craig: “Tory attack dog bites self!”

If the Tories win next year, is a “chump” (to borrow a line from Peter Mandelson) like Grayling going to survive long in the hothouse of the error-prone, scandal-ridden Home Office, the graveyard of political careers?

Oon a more serious note, is Cameron really planning to ape Gordon Brown’s “government of all the talents”? As I wrote in the magazine back in July, Gordon’s “goats” — Lords Malloch-Brown, Darzi and Jones — soon deserted him and made his big tent look rather shabby and empty. Why does Cameron think it will be any different under a Conservative administration?

Also, am I the only one wondering whether it is right and proper for Sir Richard Dannatt to be accepting a Tory peerage and a Tory job — not to mention openly considering a ministerial post in a future Tory government — less than two months after retiring as Britain’s top soldier? Shouldn’t there be some sort of purdah period? Some sort of decent interval? And will the Tory-supporting media in this country now start to treat some of Dannatt’s claims and criticisms of the government with much-needed and overdue scepticism? He can no longer be described as a disinterested or impartial soldier who is “beyond approach” nor can attacks on him now be dismissed out of hand as “smears”.

Sir Richard – soon to be Lord Dannatt – welcome to British politics!