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Theresa May’s police cuts are of more lasting significance than the Ken Clarke frenzy

Posted on 19 May 2011 | 10:05am

Which was the event of more serious long-term consequence? Ken Clarke ballsing up his choice of words in a live interview? Or Theresa May getting a comprehensive thumbs down from the PoliceFederation?

If the media are to be believed, particularly the hysterical broadcast media yesterday, it is KC and the loose language. I suspect that for the public, it may be the sight of a Tory Home Secretary accused of endangering safety on the streets, and failing to stand up for the cops whilst claiming to be tough on crime.

However, because of the hysteria, very little was seen or heard of Teresa May’s problems. The Clarke story was universally deemed to be more significant. As someone said on twitter last night, she owes Ken a pint.

In part, this was because once the frenzy kicked off on a Radio Five Live phone-in, it became a story about the media, and there is nothing they love more than a story about themselves. Oh how happy was Nick Robinson … we start with moody shots of a BBC phone-in, we see Clarke watching PMQs from a BBC studio (Cameron is not very good at standing up for people is he? – bad trait), we then see Clarke seemingly begging to put his case to Nick Robinson, we then see a horde of Nick’s colleagues chasing KC around the Millbank studios where the BBC are based, and then busy busy Nick is called into action once more so that Ken can use another interview to explain what he really meant in the earlier interview about the earlier interview.

Amid it all, the issues of course get lost amid the frenzy. He ballsed up. True. But was he really saying rape wasn’t a serious issue? I don’t think so. What he was, I think, trying to do, was reflect the reality – that judges apply different sentences to different rapes according to the circumstances, the same as murder and other serious crime. But it all came out wrong and the frenzy was unleashed.

The Teresa May situation is different. Now first of all it is important to remember the Police Federation is a vested interest with a habit of being rude to Home Secretaries (Jack Straw was slow-handclapped there on the day Tony Blair was harangued by Sharon Storer and John Prescott lamped a voter).

But the scale of the cuts proposed by the government, and the impact that will have on policing, is a major issue, and for once I think we have to take seriously the linking of their own interests with those of the public.

The other point is this: since the coalition was formed, the media monoprism I referred to yesterday has shifted to the right. Getting Clarke, with his liberal views on prisons and Europe, is a good sport. May, on the other hand, is thought to be to the right of him, and therefore can get away with more, even if it means she is taking a whole load of coppers off the streets.

However, in a day or two, I think we will have heard the last of the Clarke/rape frenzy. The Teresa May/police cuts story has a long way to run. Public ahead of media, as so often.

  • Simon Landau

     Careful Al, it is never good for an alpha male to put the boot into a woman but support a fellow male well past his sell by date who revealed in the interview that the knowledge of his brief was at least 20 years old.

  • Jacquie R

    Completely agree. Clarke, a lawyer who should know better, did make a complete hash of things. It was probably through a combination of laziness and outmoded attitudes – but the reaction is verging on hysteria.

    It’s no accident that Cameron gave the task of (much needed) sentencing reform to a Liberal like Ken Clarke. While many Tories have little taste for it themselves, Cameron knows there are huge savings to be made here and having Clarke in that post is very useful for him.

    Lastly, it wasn’t Ed’s finest hour, leaping onto the bandwagon and calling for Clarke to be sacked although, as commentators are pointing out, it may have actually saved his job!

  • RickEveleigh

    2 comments so far, both about Clarke not May. QED! 

  • MicheleB

    Re your ‘As someone said on twitter last night, she owes Ken a pint’ do you suppose May knows what one is?  She really is a strange beast.

    That said, I think it was emotive and non-sensible of the Police spokesman to claim she is avenging something long past.  She’s simply a strange beast.

    When people are as blinkered as so many of CamSham’s team are we can be sure they only achieve it by ignoring detail.  This Cabinet reeks of that fault.


  • MicheleB

    We don’t really need Clarke to make value judgements about the seriousness of rape, Govt cuts and Council decisions do it for us.

    I couldn’t help thinking about Jill Saward yesterday because if we do
    ‘need’ to grade rapes this woman’s ordeal was unimaginable  and compounded
    when the trial judge exploited her recovery to reduce the sentences. 
    She’s still being kicked around:



  • Kb

    Good God Alastair. This is the first time you’ve ever blogged anything I have agreed with. Now if you could only persuade your Labour colleagues to get back to dealing intelligently with real issues instead of this endless affected posturing, I  might even start voting Labour again!

  • Olli Issakainen

    Chris Huhne. Ken Clarke. Teresa May. Andrew Lansley. How many members of David Cameron´s cabinet will be left by the end of May?
    And David Laws returning..?
    Mr Cameron, of course, promised to protect frontline services. Any minister plotting to make cuts to them would be sent back and so on…
    By the time of next general election, Ed Miliband will be seen as an honest politician. Messrs Cameron and Clegg will not.
    And Mr Clegg has said that he agrees on the size of the state with the Conservatives.
    Mr Osborne does not understand that fiscal management is also part of the market.  He is not a trained economist. When the debt was 53.5% of GDP last year, lower than during 200 of the last 250 years, Mr Osborne said that Britain was “bankrupt”.
    Britain can print money and tax people. Britain has no economic crisis. There is no need to cut £81bn. Now is wrong time to cut public spending, anyway.
    Mr Osborne claims that the deficit was caused by Labour overspending, and now huge cuts are needed to balance the books. But the deficit was caused by bank bailouts and recession caused by financial crisis caused by banks.
    It is a classic neoliberal “shock doctrine” to use a crisis, real or as in UK´s case imagined, to get through policies voters would not usually accept.
    Anyway, Greece is the next Lehman Brothers. Greece will soon go bust and cause much bigger financial crisis than the last one.
    People who put together Greece´s programme underestimated the extent to which public spending cuts and tax increases would hamper the growth.
    After the collapse of Greece, which might happen before 2013, the world´s financial system will be in danger of total collapse.
    Neoliberal capitalism will do it once again. Nothing has been learned of 2008. More regulation and state control is now needed for economic security to prevent the western-style capitalism from collapsing.
    Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger are now dominating headlines. Why do powerful men compulsively cheat?
    The goal of any organism is survival and propagation of its genes. Emperors and despots are known for their irresponsible sexual behaviour.
    Modern-day men of power – Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, JFK etc. – can also behave badly.
    Part of it is underlying temperament. Narcissists are part of the poor-control camp. A combination of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy in different combinations is lethal for some males.
    But testosterone is not only limted to men. Women have testosterone-driven tendencies too.
    Alpha men and women dominate the world and the gene pool. Among social animals, leaders are tolerated only until what they give back to group in stability and order are exceeded by what they take from it.
    In egalitarian society, there is public outrage about sexual misbehaviour of elites – especially the kind that involves violence or assault.
    There are cultural differences in media. It has been said that the French press would not have written about DSK if the incident had happened in France.
    Britain has had Alan Clark and John Major´s affair with Edwina Currie. In 2009, a 13-year-old boy was plastered over the papers as Britain´s youngest father. But the baby was not his. Father was a 14-year-old, and he was also named in the press. Is this OK?

  • Simon

    Refreshing to read a comment from a Labour person who isn’t deliberately misunderstanding the point KC was trying to make.

  • Simon

    Refreshing to read a comment from a Labour person who isn’t deliberately misunderstanding the point KC was trying to make.

  • Mabozza Ritchie

    Not commenting on Ed’s decision to run with it for PMQ speaks volumes. Usually, I find Yvette Cooper very effective but I’m not even sure she was convinced by the arguments she was putting forward. 

  • Jacquie R

    Just realised I described Ken Clarke as Liberal. Of course I meant a lower case liberal.   

  • ambrosian

    There’s no contradiction between saying all rapes are very serious and that rapes vary in character, for example in the degree of violence used. If all rapes were the same, they would all attract the same sentence. To that extent, Clarke was stating the bleeding obvious and it’s a pity that Miliband has found himself in the cosy embrace of the Sun, the Mail, the Star, etc. this morning. His first big misjudgment at PMQs in my opinion.

    One justifiable criticism of Clarke, given that he’s both Justice Secretary and a lawyer, is that he got the law on rape wrong. He admitted in one interview that his example of sex between an 18 year old man and a 15 year old girl being classed as rape might be incorrect and said he would have to go and check the law. (It is when one party is under 13 that consensual sex is treated as rape, even if the defendant genuinely believed the victim to be older).
    Maybe it’s down to Clarke’s laid-back approach that he didn’t check this before doing a radio discussion. Having said that, it wasn’t the single factual error that caused the media storm.

  • Gilliebc

    I think your blog is spot-on AC.  I would just add that imo the msm in this country is bordering on the farcical.  Yesterday’s coverage being a perfect example of headline grabbing insubstantial “let’s all have a go at Ken Clarke” day.  Never mind the fact that a lot of us were able to grasp and agree with most of the points he was making.
    The “story” of Home Sec. TM addressing the Police Fed. is of a very different nature with much more serious implications in the longer term. 
    My husband reckons the police were spoiled something rotten back in the 1980’s when Maggie overpaid them to help in her quest to get rid of the coal miners.  I think there is a lot of truth in that. 

  • Ehtch

    I watched “The Day of the Jackel” again the other day – the first one, the one with Edward Fox. It was interesting watching how the French policing setup worked then, albeit in a fictional film, although seemed quite accurate.

    Something tells me the UK police service could maybe need to change the way it is set up and organised, rather than just drawing a quick line for a cut in budget. But re-organisation costs, as per NHS looks to be forced to do, for who the heck knows reasons. 

  • Anonymous

    Clarke doesn’t need sympathy – this is, after all, the man who kicked the ambulance men in the goolies back in the eighties, and has championed tobacco companies in his free time. His instincts on crime are obviously more liberal than May’s and for that at least he is an enlightened presence in an otherwise neanderthal government.   

    As to Ed Miliband’s position, surely the point about PMQs is that its only object is for the two leaders to score points over each other – and this is often done in quite bizarre ways.  Ed won the points because he made Cameron look stupid.  Surely it’s that simple?  John Smith would probably have done the same.

    That said, I hope Ed’s back on the case of the NHS and the police cuts next week.

  • Dave Simons

     I’ll never forgive Ken Clarke for describing ambulance drivers as taxi drivers. He showed himself to be a true-blue Tory when he said that. I’m glad he’s interested in ornithology though, and not in the customary Tory manner of – how many brace can we shoot today.

  • Dave Simons

    Frankly I’m bored with all this talk about alpha males – in my honest opinion you can’t beta female.

  • Guest

    Bloody hell, this was ,of course, on the tip of my Broca’s area but made it to neither tongue nor finger. So many nails with flattened heads; where did I put that hammer?

  • Sarah Dodds

    My policeman husband’s morale is rock bottom. We are still waiting to see if  his intelligence led post has survived the first wave of re-organisation. If not, he goes back on shift – back to the front line.

    That sounds quite good! More officers back on the beat! BUT…..

    What Teresa May does not realise is that  his “back office”   role stops a whole load of crap happening. Her answer is to let the crap happen, as long as my hubby can be seen to be dealing with the crap in front of the public. What she also fails to notice is that this is VERY expensive crap, in both financial and human terms. But, never mind……as long as my hubby and his chums can be seen, that is all that matters.

    We have a joke between us, me and hubby. It is that when the back office and front office services in his station were going to be assessed, someone from the Home Office came and drew a line down the middle of the police station. The people in the front offices at the time got to stay, those in the back got the push. But of course, the Home Office would not make such arbitrary distinctions.

    And to those who wish to know, the reason I have gone all quiet on here lately is that I have had an election campaign. In a weak moment, I let the CLP persuade me to stand for the District Council here. I won by a landslide (it was a safe Labour seat already). So normal life is suspended for a while……

  • MicheleB

     ……………..   David Laws returning..?  …………………..

    I’m very puzzled by all this. 

    Perhaps a legal eagle can explain why David Laws’s (grammar query!) activities have been described as not being  illegal/criminal nor for profit and different to those of some other cheats?

    He claimed more rent than the system’s maximum allowable … (as to whether he actually put those amounts in to the family pot is not our business, I suppose it’s his partner’s).
    He claimed for non-existent building work (how someone purportedly just a tenant would be deemed responsible for that anyway I have no idea).
    He over-claimed on his mobile bill.

    How in heck is any of that deemed not criminal?

    For someone that claims he made all his claims because he didn’t want his parents to realise he is gay ……………..he’ had (and apparently is vindicated in having) some brass neck about we the public’s opinion.

    Unfortunately the ‘fact’ that CamSham and Clegg rate him means he’s right to have that neck.


  • MicheleB

    Has anyone seen the strange beast’s workings-out of her ‘11% out on the street’?

    Does time hanging around at court for every case as the arresting office get bunged in to the 89%?
    Same question re compulsory ‘Aid’ – policing local football matches?
    Is she aware of the differing shift rotas between constabularies (in London some have 5x12hr shifts while others have 6x10hrs etc).

    How much of her time is she visible in HoC and should we demand more of that so we know she’s busy doing something/anything?

  • Gilliebc

    I entirely agree with your comment/query about the David Laws’ situation
    Michele.  Surely the fact that money/expenses were seemingly falsely claimed is the salient point here!  The fact that he didn’t want his parents to know he is in a gay relationship is just not relevant.  It’s akin to a thief trying to wriggle out of being prosecuted by claiming the fact that he is broke as a good reason/mitigating circumstances for his illegal act of theft. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse or mitigating circumstance. So nor should wanting to keep one’s private life private be taken into any consideration whatsoever.
    Hopefully, as you suggested Michele, someone may take the time to explain to you, me and some others I expect, just why in your words M- David Laws’ activites are not deemed illegal?

    The above was written as a reply to MicheleB. But it “jumped off” the reply space provided, as another reply of mine did the other day.  Don’t know whether this is due to a malfunction by Disqus, or my (laptop) computer.