The Ken Clarke saga

A litmus test - if so, what was being tested?

Clarke, mad hatter No1Clarke, mad hatter No1
There is, we are told, 'no such thing as bad publicity'; well, the higher echelons of David Cameron's world, the inner sanctum and the No10 team, may disagree. Ken Clarke is in trouble over a remark he made about his plan for dealing with rape cases. He made the remark during a BBC radio interview in his capacity as Justice Secretary. There is more to the Clarke case than a second rate politico, well past his sell by date, getting bashed because of this remark. In a typically clumsy way Clarke made a mess of a simple situation. Do remember that Clarke goes by the name 'bruiser', a right wing reply to John Prescott, if it were needed, and perhaps it's not. Some would say the style of politics has moved on. There are two main problems here, the man and the remark. Let's start with the man.

Going back to his days in office during the Margaret Thatcher and John Major years, Clarke was an average rather than a gifted performer. Key words crop up time-and-again from those who know this period to describe him, 'brusque' and 'lazy' are common. His time as Junior Transport Minister is typical, anyone involved with lobbying his department or working for him knew that he was often described in harsher terms. Getting people off rather than on side seemed to be the rule with Clarke. This was how the tag bruiser came along. He was lucky too, as Chancellor his job was easier than the task ahead for George Osborne today.

But prior to the general election it was Clarke as Chancellor, 'the best we have ever known etc', that filled the Tory press. Each and every Tory troll got themselves onto a forum and spoke up for Clarke. But this wonderful Chancellor thing is an illusion peddled by those with selective memories. In opposition during the last months of the Labour government Clarke was supposed to take on Peter Mandelson on business matters and duff him up. More nonsense and hype. Mandelson and Clarke where separated by the division between the Commons and the Lords so the battle never came. The fact is Clarke has, like a company share, been overvalued for years and now here comes the correction.

Now onto the remark, the cause of the present trouble. Writing in the Spectator David Blackburn said -

talk to lawyers and they complain that the Justice Secretary did not have sufficient command of his brief to redirect Victoria Derbyshire’s line of questioning.

This sounds very much like the lazy side of the man was uppermost during the interview. However, the BBC has done well out of Clarke, who has been their yappy Tory for many years as he suits their 'agenda'. It's true to say that on TV, the BBC Question Time programme for example, he's rather good and he's been on in the middle of this fuss. As QT is a panel show Clarke is thus compared with the others and can come out well. From him there's a mix of genial buffer, couldn't give a toss, and bruiser that is both good for his image and enlivens a programme that comes close to being hideous. Part of the problem with QT is the chairman, David Dimbleby, but then it is a horror show so can't do without him.

By contrast the Radio 5 Live programme is very different.Clarke's office should have alerted him to the different format, on the other hand perhaps they did but Clarke failed to read their report. Remember Clarke did not read the Maastricht Treaty but signed up to it! The Victoria Derbyshire programme is a crude version of the Paxman approach to broadcasting with extra problems thrown in to make it 'edgy'. Being a phone-in anyone, especially those with nothing to say, are encouraged by Victoria Derbyshire to go on at great length. But this is the sidebar, the main part is the confrontational interviewing which is done, naturally, in the best interests of the public. Thus if this programme stoops low it does so for the highest motive. You can be certain that in a normal week the contents are soon forgotten, perhaps even by the people who took the trouble to phone in.
Cable, mad hatter No2Cable, mad hatter No2
So what went wrong, why the fuss? Had Clarke been talking about robbery then the concept that all crimes of theft are not equal would have been allowed. After all this is why sentences vary, yes there are times when the judiciary fails but even so you cannot have justice run by a computer programme. But rape has, like immigration, been moved to a place where rational debate has long gone. In fact any debate, of any type, is served up with an illogical zealotry by the likes of BBC Radio 5 that gives the hysterical approach rights over the analytical one. We cannot have a rational approach, only one that stoke fears will do, that's what the relationship between the MSM and the public is all about. The cheerleader and the mob.

But all this could backfire on the BBC. The QT programme went over the top with its aggressive approach to Nick Griffin such that he gained from it. It's far from certain that Clarke should go because of one bad interview on one bad radio programme. But you never know with Cameron. He is unable to get rid of useless tossers like Vince Cable because they are not part of the Tory party, so why should he get rid of Clarke just because he is? And make no mistake here, whatever happens the problem lands in Cameron's lap. Clarke is the last of the old style Tories and as such is part of the iconography of the Cameron presentation. This is important as it reassures older voters that despite Cameron's pre-election suggestion that he was "heir to Blair" he can be trusted to be a 'proper' Tory. You can only pull that sort of trick once and the illusion was supposed to last longer than a year.

But it's not just the BBC who would like to decide the future of members of the Cabinet. The baiting of Clarke by the Sun takes us back to the time when Dominic Grieve was removed from his job as Shadow Home Secretary because the newspaper took against him. True a Shadow Minister only scores half points but the Sun would love to raise its game to remove the real thing. However, a bit like the BBC it takes itself far too seriously. Just how many people read the Sun for the politics as compared to the number who only buy it for the football results?

But then again it comes back to Cameron. Pushed by a tabloid into getting rid of Minister, who would have thought it possible? You may say that now he's PM it's all better and he's tougher but the fact is that's whistling in the wind. The public have spotted this and will be watching him. The MSM prior to the election kept telling us that Gordon Brown had "saved the world", but the voter thought they deserved better than this and out went Labour. It was the same with the Yes to AV campaign the BBC could not do enough to support it. But again the public knew best and rejected AV. The huge gulf between the public, parliament and the MSM speaks volumes about the latter two.

So the litmus test, what have we learnt from the Clarke episode? Little we did not know already. We have a weak government and an hysterical MSM and there's a good chance that if Clarke is sacked it will be for the wrong reasons. Cameron has been described as Clarke in short trousers and if it's not one fool then it's another. Clarke only had a few days on the rack before Vince Cable makes another bid for the role of top fool. He has taken it upon himself to explain to the nation that the UK economy is in a spot of bother. That things will be a bit tough says the man. Too right! As another prize fool, and also a Liberal Democrat, Chris Huhne, has signed us up to the Climate Change Bill. With such an array of fools the Clarke saga will soon fade from the MSM. But the public won't forget. .