No.10 Downing Street

ACSO's Executive Director, Matthew Maxwell Scott, muses on the latest from the Conservative leadership campaign

Posted on Tue, 02/08/2022

The spectator sport that is the Conservative leadership election has more than a month to run, with ballot papers still to arrive on party members' doormats. 

Yet things feel a little flat. Like any major sporting contest, much of the excitement was reserved for the opening rounds. As the competition became stiffer and the premiership prize that much closer, the so-called 'blue-on-blue' attacks diminished, with more caution on the pitch. 

As things stand, the final is proving to be something of a mis-match. The polling of Tory members is more than a little unreliable, so it is easier to use the bookies' odds as a guide, and note that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is now around 10/1 on to emerge triumphant. To complete the sporting metaphor, it's three-nil at half time and Rishi Sunak has had a player sent off. 

In the debates, the policy divides have chiefly been on tax, and even here the argument has been less about whether to lower taxes but when. The cost-of-living crisis has features, but then so has the relative price of one candidate's earnings versus the other one's shoes. The 1984 line of Walter Mondale to his Democrat rival Gary Hart, "Where's the beef?", seems apposite (noting that this sparring counted for little when their party went on to a shellacking at the hands of Ronald Reagan's Republicans eight months later).

Those of us in the civil justice sector hoping that the consumer issues we campaign on would get a look-in during the debates have been left disappointed, albeit not surprised. This is despite the fact that Liz Truss, who was after all Justice Secretary for 11 months, has at least some experience in this field. Unfortunately the civil justice system's status as a Cinderella service looks under little threat, at least for now. 

What to do? Well, after September 5 there will be a clearer sense of what the incoming Prime Minister's - and her or possibly his new team's - priorities in government will be, and how justice fits in. 

For now, government officials are effectively in charge, but given that it is August, and remembering the quote that "the only thing that saves us from bureaucracy is inefficiency", expect nothing to change for now. 

What needs to shift is the attitude towards civil justice. Ever-lengthening waits for hearings, fixed recoverable costs that don't begin to cover actual costs and a sense in some quarters of inevitable decline should not be tolerated. Consumers rely on our civil justice system to be there for them when things go wrong. Therefore it needs champions in and around government who understand the challenges ahead as well as the mis-steps of recent years. Our new premier will need to have that impressed upon them, whoever it turns out to be. 

Author: Matthew Maxwell Scott, Executive Director at ACSO.