Chris Grayling is a cool customer.
He has a reputation as a Tory attack dog, a ruthless opposition politician who can put the squeeze on any government minister unfortunate enough to cross his path.
He has already seen off one Home Secretary during his short time in the shadow post and is building a reputation as a worthy adversary to the current incumbent, Alan Johnson.
He has the demeanour of an establishment man — crisp pink shirt, Tory blue tie, House of Commons cufflinks — and speaks with the authority of someone heading for the Cabinet.
But he is wise to the risks of acting like a government minister before the election. This explains, he says, why he has not been overly vocal on the subject of extremism and counter-terrorism policy.
However, he points to the issue of “control orders” (virtual house arrest for terrorist subjects), where he has raised serious concerns that the legal regime is unravelling.
“The issue of terror is so sensitive and important that you really need to get it right. Therefore you have to accept the limitations of what you can do in opposition. I do not have access to the legal expertise, the team of people I would need to really overhaul the control order system and to work out what works and what doesn’t. I see little point… in doing a half-baked job.”
Just before the interview, I bumped into Tory education spokesman Michael Gove — who has his own firm views on terrorism — and asked why the Conservatives had been relatively quiet on the issue in recent months.
He explained that Chris Grayling was a politician who insisted on getting his head completely around a subject before making a pronouncement.
Now Mr Grayling is ready. He is likely to use next week’s Tory Party conference to make it clear that a Conservative government would take immediate action against extremist groups or individuals calling for violence, even if there was no evidence they were planning to use it.
He is outraged that more drastic action was not taken against those protesting against British troops in Luton, or who called for infidels to be killed during the Danish cartoons row.
“I think the government has to make it absolutely clear that anyone in our country who espouses violence is not going to be able to do business with the government of the day and in many circumstances will be putting themselves in danger of prosecution,” he says.
“I will be sending a strong message that we will not tolerate violent extremism in this country. And we will not hesitate to move against groups or individuals who encourage it.”
Asked whether government money should reach the Muslim Association of Britain, whose website published claims about New York rabbis trading in the body parts of Algerian children, Mr Grayling was adamant.
“No organisation that makes baseless accusations about rabbis harvesting the organs of Muslim children can expect to work closely with government or to receive funding from government.”
He confirmed that a Tory administration would set up an immediate review of control orders and of the controversial anti-extremist Prevent programme.
Mr Grayling shares the concerns of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and reported by the JC, that money is being used to fund dubious organisations.
“I have some serious misgivings about the way in which Prevent money is being used. I think there are plenty of indicators that it is being channelled in a way that is actually in the end funding extremism rather than reducing extremism.”
Mr Grayling emphasised that there would be a fundamental shift of community policy under a Conservative government. Theories of multiculturalism that suggested that communities should be permitted to live side-by-side without integration had sometimes created cultural and religious ghettoes.
“My view is that the role of government is to support activities and organisations that break down community divisions. It is not the job of government to accelerate the ghettoisation of our society.”
Pressed for specifics, he adds: “Public money should not be supporting the Bradford Muslim football league or the Leeds Jewish football league. It should be supporting the Yorkshire Boys’ football league. It should be seeking to bring different groups together and foster understanding rather than accentuating divides.”
British Jews, like every other minority community, needed to guard against becoming isolated from mainstream British society. “The Jewish community of this country has been here for a very long time. It is a very distinctive community. It has its own values and principles. But I would be horrified if the Jewish community lived in ‘x’ square miles of north London and nowhere else and had no interchange with anybody else.”
He quickly makes clear that he does not believe the scenario he outlined to be the case at present.
Mr Grayling is not happy talking in areas where he has not conducted detailed research and party staff had asked me not to “stitch him up” on foreign policy.
But he was happy to discuss his stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which, if not sophisticated, is utterly reasonable: “My position has always been that Britain should seek to be an honest broker otherwise we have no role to play. Frankly if we are seen to be fiercely partisan in the Middle East, then our ability to make any difference there at all disappears.”
I ask how the Tories would tackle the rise of the extreme right and he voices what has become a familiar refrain on the broken society. “You break down the culture of welfare dependency, you deal with the problem families, you address the issue of educational failure, you deal with the problem of underage alciohol sales. You make sure there are consequences for anti-social behaviour.”
As for a BNP presence on Question Time, he supports the cross-party consensus that once BNP representatives appear in the mainstream, politicians have to expose them as bigots.
With the interview nearing its end, we return to the subject of Prevent. I am keen to know if there is already a formal review of the policy within the Conservative Party. “There isn’t now, but there will be after the election if we are successful,” he says. “There will be a review of Prevent and where the money has been spent.
“It is a difficult financial climate anyway. But I will want to be very clearly persuaded that the money is being used in the right ways. What above all it must not do is be spent in a way which actually continues to create a climate of extremism. I want us to break down community barriers, not to ghettoise society.”
If Chris Grayling hasn’t made much of a noise in this policy area before, he certainly has now.