Wannabe lawyer and local council candidate Alex Cisneros uses graduate recruitment criteria to review last night’s performance by Justice Secretary at a constituency hustings meeting
Public hustings are important and frightening events for any politician, as constituents and other members of the public are licensed to quiz and badger candidates about why they should be elected as an MP.
It is a bit like a job interview for politicians — or even a training contract or pupillage interview for prospective lawyers.
And the denizens of leafy Epsom and Ewell in Surrey gathered in force last night to put the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, through his paces.
Grayling was there to defend his record and make promises about the future. So if he were fighting for his job last night, what were my impressions of his chances of success?
As Grayling is at least ostensibly bidding to retain his role in relation to the legal profession, it seems fair that he should be judged on the same criteria as legal job hunters: presentation, knowledge and personality.
Grayling’s core message to constituents was that he was going to be a local and visual MP. He boasted that he shopped in the local supermarket and even deigns to walk down the high street at weekends.
Grayling has been the MP in the Surrey seat of Epsom and Ewell since 2001. But judging by the reaction of the audience, the only evidence of his boast of having a high profile in the local constituency is his physical height. You should never over-egg the facts in a job interview, and the constituents were not impressed.
Grayling delivered answers in the classic political fashion — looking directly at interrogators, thanking them for the questions and repeating their names at the end of every sentence. It was a little too intense for a small venue.
Knowledge of the job
Candidates were invited to make opening comments. With a smile, Grayling assured the hustings meeting that he was proud of his record in government, and even boasted of the “modernisation” of the legal system as evidence of his “effective” way of working.
The comments were met with murmuring and an unenthusiastic clap from someone in the room. It seems that the voters weren’t falling for that one either.
This is tricky — Grayling appeared jovial and quite pleased to be there. He said his worst ever job has been “washing up greasy saucepans” and he considers his greatest achievements to be “hitting Dennis Lillee for four in a charity cricket match, and being the person who organised the pardon for Alan Turing”.
Grayling joked that as a child he wanted to be a train driver. In any other situation — and if this had been a more standard job interview — this cheerful attitude may have helped his case. However, when discussing zero-hour contracts and the dismantling of the justice system, I should have expected a certain amount of seriousness and sobriety.
All in all, it was a rather uninspiring performance from the country’s esteemed Lord Chancellor. It would seem the wheels of democracy may be moving in favour of justice though as I could hear others in the room murmuring their dissent.
The attitude in the room reflected the results of the recent YouGov poll on attitudes to legal aid. Nearly 85% of people say legal aid and fair trials are a British fundamental right — compared with 82% that cited health care at the point of use being a fundamental right.
While justice should never be used as a political football, after last night’s performance, there is a real possibility that we won’t have Grayling playing on the field much longer.
Alex Cisneros is a BPTC student at City University and a Labour local council candidate in Epsom.