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Progressive Conservatism 2005-2012

David Wooding, the political editor of The Sun, said during reports of the cabinet reshuffle that for him two things were at play: firstly moves were being made in order for the Tories to be more in touch with the public, and secondly Cameron wanted to temper the rabble on his backbenches.

To be sure, it looks as though the backbenchers have finally won their battle.

The rebels were always doing damage to Cameron and acted as a constant thorn in his side. Tim Montgomerie, writing excitedly in the Guardian, noted that this indeed was the era of the Tory supercharged backbencher.

From the 81 who voted against the government on Europe to the 91 who voted against the government on Lords Reform, Cameroonism was always on shaky ground due to the factions behind him, disappointed that he didn’t win an election in 2010.

The compassionate conservativism, which irked the Tory Right to tears, probably came to an end today.

Nothing says this more than the introduction of Chris Grayling as Minister of Justice.

The backbenchers made no bones about it. They felt Ken Clarke was soft on crime, and his prison reforms were a symbol of this. In a Telegraph poll in 2011, just as the government had u-turned on granting 50 per cent discounts for those who pleaded guilty to crimes, over half the votes said that Ken Clarke’s proposals were wrong with 44% saying he should be sacked immediately.

Clarke may have been lucky to stay this long.

So to give way to the Right of his party, Cameron has installed someone who before the election was advocating a “hardline approach. Hardcore thugs must go to jail, not be let off as many are at present.”

Some of us saw this coming a mile off. After all Cameron was the one who blamed the riots on “pure criminality”.

It should not be forgotten that the Tories run a huge electoral risk being “compassionate” on this subject because they are naturally viewed, whether fairly or not, as the party of law and order.

The backbenchers have reasons to be cheerful with Grayling. With prisons, as opposed to his predecessor, he would like to see an additional 5,000 prison places built, tallying up to a total of 100,000 for the first time in history.

Before the last election Grayling denied that this was a reversal of Cameron’s Hug-a-Hoodie rhetoric, but was thereafter referred to as “Mug-a-Hoodie” politics.

Iain Dale, speaking on Sky News, noted that he knows Grayling very well and said that as regards the political hot potato of prisoner votes, he is actually fairly progressive. This remains to be seen.

Certainly the message that has been sent out this morning by the Prime Minister is that, in Justice, he has given in to rebel pressure and turned away one of his token liberal Tories for someone deemed far more hardline.

The proof will be in what Grayling does in office, but for now it looks like the days of the compassionate Conservatives is over.

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