There's a word for this kind of thing. I just invented it: it's 'Mailbait', which covers the kind of political wheeze that pleases Richard Littlejohn, Paul Dacre and their readers, while actually causing social problems further down the line. Book-banning is one of them. Prisoners often spend 16 hours in their cells. Deprived of books, all they have left to do is masturbate, fashion illicit weaponry or – joking aside – get depressed and angry, which is hardly conducive to rehabilitation. I'd understand if prisoners were being sent The Anarchist's Cookbook, the illustrated The Great Escape and Mad Frankie Fraser's autobiography, but a blanket ban on the things which might turn a recidivist into an engaged member of society is just the kind of petty revenge that the current government specialises in. Seriously: no birthday cards? That's really going to help rehabilitate offenders. I'm almost tempted to mail a random prisoner a copy of The Borribles, the children's book which sees the police as Enemy No. 1.
I wonder how celebrity Tory convicts Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken feel about this? I thought the main purpose of prison was public protection and the attempt to turn criminals away from their former lives. Grayling's actions just dehumanise them.
He's not the first lazy polemicist to reach public office of course. Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies took a pop at the appalling 1920s Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks. Here's our hero at customs in Dover:
Now just you wait while I look up these here books"—how he said it!—"in my list. Particularly against books the Home Secretary is. If we can't stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop its being brought in from outside."