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Is he just keeping the seat warm for Davis?

November 30th, 2008

Why hasn’t Dominic Grieve been a bit more high profile?

It’s not often that a new government in Europe leads one to the Conservative frontbench, but another Grand Coalition will take office in Austria early next week, and as with the previous government, it’s headed up by a Social Democrat Chancellor while the conservative People’s Party holds the remaining big posts of Finance, Foreign Affairs and the Interior Ministry. With the “comparative politics hat” firmly affixed, a UK equivalent of the new administration in Vienna would have a “big four” of Brown, Osborne, Hague, and Dominic Grieve.

The other three, whatever you may think of them, are major figures in UK politics, but it might be pushing it to say the same of Grieve, appointed in the wake of David Davis’ surprise resignation to fight the multi-candidate by-election in Haltemprice & Howden. The Home Office has long been a high profile and traditionally “difficult” portfolio to hold in government, containing as it does such responsibilities as the police, prisons, and immigration, which receive much attention from the media.

So why is it that Dominic Grieve, after spending several months in what should be a high-profile shadow role, isn’t really much less little-known than when he started it? Unlike his opposite number who will struggle to hold on in Redditch, he has a safe seat for life in the shape of Beaconsfield, so couldn’t fairly claim to be distracted by having to nurse his constituency. Rightly or wrongly, modern politics at home and abroad is fought out in the media, and here his presence does seem to have been diminished and muted compared to his predecessor. How many members of the public would be able to correctly identify him from a picture?

As Greengate unfolded, David Davis has been on the media having his say on the situation as a mere backbench MP – but is the current crisis an opportunity for Grieve (as today) to be thrust into the limelight more to argue his party’s case, and be putting Jacqui Smith under pressure at a very difficult time for her – and perhaps in so doing significantly enhance his reputation and as it were “earn his spurs”?

The suggestion persists however that Dominic Grieve may have been merely “keeping the seat warm” for a possible future return for Davis ahead of a final shadow cabinet resuffle before the Conservatives go into the long pre-election period. Grieve was a surprise and hasty appointment as the Davis resignation drama unfolded, and might he thus end up merely being a stopgap? Cameron could move Nick Herbert to Shadow Attorney General, and put Davis at Justice, or move Grieve to Justice and give Davis his old job back. There could also be some combination of moving Osborne/Hague to a DPM-in-waiting type role.

The Conservatives will not be taking the next GE for granted and know that they will have to fight hard to win it, and like the last opposition to take power, be ruthlessly focused and disciplined, even in the face of apparently unassailable poll leads. Given that Labour have brought back Mandelson (with Blunkett still to return?) in the “all hands to the pump” meme, shouldn’t Cameron bring back the “big beast” of David Davis, currently languishing on the backbenches, and who could help the party in the north, in a SCOAT (Shadow Cabinet of all the Talents)? If Shadsy’s reading this, how about a market on who’ll be the Shadow Home Sec going into the next general election? What price Dominic Grieve?

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