Ben Gummer (Ipswich) has been appointed to the prestigous Justice Select Committee, along with Liz Truss (South West Norfolk), replacing Jessica Lee (Erewash) and Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) respectively. Mr Gummer spoke in his maiden speech of his desire to make penal reform one of the issues in which he takes a particular interest, and no doubt his familiarity with Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke (Ben’s father, Lord Deben, was at Cambridge with Mr Clarke as well as serving alongside him in both Thatcher and Major Governments) will stand him in good stead amongst his new colleagues.
Interestingly, Anna Soubry won her seat from Labour in the face of a campaign by “Conservatives for Nick Palmer” the outgoing Labour member. That was set up by recent Labour party member Russell Whiting, who explains all to the Labour Party Conference here. Russell will be well known to some Tories in Suffolk Coastal and Ipswich, since he used to be a member of the Tories here. He is now a proud member of Broxtowe CLP! A political journey indeed!
Anyway, we digress. Mr Gummer will be under pressure from constituents in Ipswich on two sides of an old debate. Ken Clarke has made public his intention to reduce the number of short term prison sentences, preferring instead community punishments. Yet the public are instintively uncomfortable with that position, and feel that punishments are rarely as harsh as they’d like. Into this crucible arrives Mr Gummer, who it would seem has sympathy with the message the Justice Secretary is sending, yet has to reconcile this with both his party members (although Ipswich has all too few of those) and his voters, who will want a tougher line taken with the department to encourage fewer community sentences and more criminals sent to jail.