PMQs: Broadcast the Prime Ministerial Test Card

He’s been one of the safest pairs of ministerial hands over decades. But he dropped a serious brick during a Five Live interview this morning. Then he wouldn’t answer his phone even when it was Number Ten trying to urgently contact him. Then the Leader of the Opposition called for his sacking at Prime Minister’s Questions. Then Number 10 went ballistic and sent him out to do another round of media interviews to try to mitigate the damage. It was quite a day in the life of one Rt. Hon Kenneth Harry “Ken” Clarke QC MP.

When the Prime Minister has to use the excuse “I haven’t heard the interview” and repeat a standard spiel on government policy, then you know things are serious. It’s the Prime Ministerial equivalent of the old TV Test Card. After Clarke’s non-answering of his phone, David Cameron had to walk naked into the Commons chamber (to paraphrase Aneurin Bevan). What a mess.

You can read the full Clarke interview here. It’s quite painful. Full marks to Victoria Derbyshire on Five Live for getting Ken Clarke on the ropes. You can see what he was trying to say. He just got himself into an awful pickle trying to say it. …And on the same day that the Home Secretary got a roasting from the police. Oh dear.

It is interesting that Ed Miliband seems to have nicked part of his script from Victoria Derbyshire: (The policy) “could mean that rapists spend as little as 15 months in prison.”

Cameron finally found what he thought was a way out by saying Miliband would have to wait for the consultation on sentencing. But there is a pattern emerging here, as Miliband highlighted: “We are getting used to this. As we saw on health, when there is a terrible policy the Prime Minister just hides behind the consultation.”

The Miliband had a bit of a field day: “The judges are saying the policy is wrong, End Violence Against Women is saying that it is the wrong policy, and his own Victims Commissioner says that the policy is “bonkers”.”

Cameron tried hard. But it is difficult not to conclude that Miliband had his best PMQs today, greatly aided by one Ken Clarke.

Other snippets were:

  • Sir Alan Beith (LibDem) asked whether people will be given bank shares when they are denationalized, as suggested by Stephen Williams (LibDem) and supported by The Sun.
  • Cameron has never met Mark Britnell, an alleged Prime Ministerial adviser on health. Indeed, Mark Britnell has never advised this government. He advised the Labour government. Cameron must have been a bit upset that that zinger was knocked down into the bowels of PMQs by Clarke.
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  • I disagree. What Kenneth Clark was saying was correct. Crown Court judges have to assess the degree of seriousness in rape offences every day of the week. The sentencing guidelines clearly mark rape offences of varying degrees of seriousness, and the appropriate sentences. There is not one simple class of rape marked by one simple sentence. I would have expected Miliband and his alleged home affairs spokesperson to know this. The media finally managed to get its head round this by the end of the day.

  • @Moggy, trouble is Clarge stated there was ‘serious rape’ and therefore ‘not serious rape’, not degrees of severity. He sought equivalence between underage sex and date rape, the former is not rape unless one party is under 13. At the very least the Justice Secretary is not familiar with the law on which he is expressing an opinion. His continued refusual, untill ordered to by the PM, to apologise, suggests someone not particulalry keen on a sensitive approach to sensitive subjects.

  • “Clarge stated there was ‘serious rape’ and therefore ‘not serious rape’. ”

    This is playing with words. The fact that the sentencing guidelines indicate there are “more serious” types of rape logically means that there are “less serious” types of rape. Not my opinion but the way the law actually works. We might say all rape offences are serious firstly because of the nature of the offence and then because they are in the Crown Court at all. So Clark’s mistake is actually that he didn’t say “serious” and “very serious”, and not that he was wrong in principle.

    Clark was was right to indicate there were varying degrees of heinousness and Miliband was wrong to say all rape offences were the same and cannot be distinguished, and even more wrong to co-opt rape victims to make a cheap political point. The actual real criminal justice system has the invidious job of differentiating between the seriousness of criminal offences taking all the circumstances of the crime into account. Judges do this. Solicitors and counsel do this. Probation officers do this. To suggest it is otherwise is a disservice to victims of the more heinous crimes.

    Let’s have a debate informed by the reality of the criminal justice system and not a posse comitatus to chase down someone accused of a gaffe.

  • Gareth Jones 21st May '11 - 4:06pm

    I read this idea on another website and I reproduce it hear for the sake of debate. What if there was a single crime of “rape” with a single range of punishment? If the victim is beaten a charge of GBH, etc., is added to the charge sheet and if found guilty punishment is added to the sentence?

  • ““Clarge stated there was ‘serious rape’ and therefore ‘not serious rape’. ”

    This is playing with words. The fact that the sentencing guidelines indicate there are “more serious” types of rape logically means that there are “less serious” types of rape.”

    He also used the terms ‘proper rape’ and ‘classic rape’. He really did make a complete mess of the interview . To be fair it did come about due to interviewer incorrectly stating the average sentence for rape was 5 years, (last year it was 8), which clearly Clark knew was wrong but jumped to the wrong reasons.

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