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Cameron will find Ken Clarke a tougher cookie than Clegg if he tries instant U-turn on sentencing and prisons

Posted on 9 December 2010 | 9:12am

I used to skimread Hansard every day when I was a journalist, and felt better informed as a result. As Tory MP Bill Cash once said, if you want to keep something a secret these days, stand up and say it in the House of Commons.

Not quite true of course, but quite witty, and a comment on the declining media interest (ironically since the Chamber was opened to cameras) in Parliamentary debate.

Of course the media will be plenty interested today as the government tries to get through its plans to treble tuition fees – which, I suspect, it will.

Anyway, back to Hansard … someone sent me a link to Monday’s Commons statement on rehabilitation and sentencing from Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, with the message ‘your name being taken in vain by old bruiser’.

This referred to the blog I wrote that morning, wishing Ken luck in his efforts to get more mentally ill prisoners into treatment.

I sense from Ken’s language that he is not totally au fait with the workings of the blogosphere. ‘This morning, I was put on Alastair Campbell’s blog,’ he said, which – without being fattist – was an uncomfortable thought. There are all these Mastercard and Visa websites being whacked by the WikiLeaks’ freedom fighters … just sit Big Ken on them, that’ll do the trick.

He went on to say I had said he was ‘moving in the right direction’ – which on mental illness in prisons, I believe he is. The ‘name being taken in vain’ came from the fact that he called me in support of his argument for the whole package. Oh well, I have been around long enough not to be able to complain about that, and actually I do think he is bringing some  fresh – and challenging to the Tories – thinking to the criminal justice system.

So I got into reading the whole thing, as you do, and was reminded of the Ken Clarke of old in the days when we used to have lunch at Pomegranates restaurant in Pimlico – bright, confident, funny, with his own mind, and unafraid to say it. Getting him back into a top job was a shrewd move by David Cameron.

A right-wing backlash has already begun against the substance of his proposals, some of it quite unpleasant, and amid it we see the first signs of Number 10 preparing to back down – becoming something of a habit for Cameron but with the media more focused on Nick Clegg than DC at the moment, the PM continues to get away with it.

I don’t think Cameron will lose much sleep over Clegg, Vince Cable and the other Lib Dems losing sleep over the wrestling with their consciences on broken pledges on tuition fees. But I think Ken is made of rather sterner stuff, and that now he is going down the path of his choice, he will be very hard to push off it

  • James

    Alastair,

    Is there anything you can do to speed the demise of Ed ‘no cred’ Miliband. The guy is going to kill Labour, he is completely hopeless and miles out of his depth.

    Best of luck.

  • Jacquie R

    I really hope people don’t buy into this media inspired dismissal of Ed Miliband – all this “Red Ed” stuff and now, as you say, “Ed no cred”. It’s a very convenient way of undermining any slightly left-wing Labour leader. Far from being hopeless and out of his depth, Ed Miliband is potentially a great Labour leader. Watch this space!

  • Gilliebc

    I agree with you AC that Ken Clark is made of sterner stuff in comparison to the other names you mentioned. He is known as a “big-hitter” to which I would also add “a right old bruiser. I really think he will stick to his guns on his current plans to not send ill-people to prison, but get them into treatment instead. ( I’ve kept that bit short and simple, because I wrote more in depth about it a couple of days ago, after reading Mr. Campbell’s excellent piece about this subject in his blog).

    I believe Ken Clark is genuine in his desire to bring about reform on this particular issue. The fact that it also makes economic sense is a big plus and of course it would also make Mr. Clark’s entry into the history books that bit longer. To be remembered as one of the country’s great reformers would appeal to him, I would imagine.

  • Gilliebc

    Just a quick thought. Where did all those people come from yesterday ?
    43 comments in response to AC’s Wikileaks blog!
    I’m guessing that the percentage of people who leave a comment on these pages is actually quite low out of the large number of people who obviously read Mr. Campbell’s blogs on a regular basis. Not sure what to conclude from that.

  • Chris Smart

    Clegg is somehow managing to come over as a wimp even though his is doing something actually quite brave

  • Holly McShane

    I certainly think Ed Miliband could do with a few Clarke type heavyweights around him, and Neil Kinnock doesn’t fit the bill, I’m afraid. Part of Ed’s problem is the seeming lack of big figures in his team. By the way I was pleased to see you praising Clarke over mental health but I agree the problem will come when they realise the places prisoners need are not there – indeed are being cut even before the cuts!

  • Robert Jackson

    “… Where did all those people come from yesterday ?
    43 comments in response to AC’s Wikileaks blog……..”

    It’s a secret.

    Someone has to be first to say it.

    🙁

  • Gilliebc

    Of course it is! Silly me, should have realized that. 🙂

  • James

    I’m not sure what pre-Christmas tipple you are having, but it must be good.

    The guy’s nose is blocked, he can’t string a sentence together and he consider people like Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair to be the enemy while cosying up to Neil Kinnock.

    Some Labour people just love to be in opposition, and it looks like you are one of them.

    As Alastair said during the leadership race, “if Labour wants to feel good about itself and lose the next election, then they should elect Ed Miliband as leader.”

  • Jacquie R

    That was then. This is now. Things have changed. Haven’t you noticed?

  • James

    I’ve noticed that Neil Kinnock (the biggest loser in Labour’s history) says ‘We’ve got our Labour Party back.’

    I’ve noticed that we are in opposition.

    I’ve noticed that you have a short surname.

    And I’ve noticed that its almost Christmas and we have a turkey as a ‘leader’.

    Ed Moribund will bring us only a further period in opposition and I am glad to see that others are already plotting his downfall.

    I hope AC is one of them.

  • Jacquie R

    Who, precisely, is plotting Ed Miliband’s “downfall” after three months?