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