Why Labour should continue demanding Ken Clarke’s resignation


11:10 am - May 23rd 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Harriet Harman has written an open letter in the Guardian today, criticising Ken Clarke again. On Saturday, Ed Miliband was asked about Clarke and once again he defended his call for the resignation.

Some media commentators have disagreed with this. Steve Richards on Thursday, Andrew Rawnsley yesterday and Jackie Ashley today. But Labour should carry on criticising Ken Clarke.

The ideological* and political reasons behind calling for Ken Clarke’s resignation are quite straight-forward in my view.

The Conservatives have a law and order problem (Lord Ashcroft’s polling confirms it too) and KC is the personification of that problem. Conservatives also have a problem with women voters, who like Tories less than male voters as a percentage.

Calling for KC’s resignation not only elevates the issue and makes it a big discussion point, but it also hurts the Conservatives on both those fronts. Cameron knows this, which is why he asked for KC to apologise immediately, regardless of what was actually said.

If Labour keep attacking Ken Clarke, Cameron will find it harder to fire him because it looks like he’s giving in to Ed Miliband. But keeping Clarke in that post is an electoral liability for the party too.

That, I think, refutes Andrew Rawnsley’s point that this has backfired.

Now to Steve Richard and Dr Evan Harris’s point that Ken Clarke is a cuddly Tory so we should keep him there.

In fact they have it the wrong way around. As Nick Pearce at ippr pointed out:

The drive to cut prison places and reform sentencing policy is the result of the government’s fiscal policy, as a number of commentators have pointed out. Whoever won power last May would have had to cut the prison estate, offender management staff and policing budgets. The pace and depth of those cuts is the result of the government’s chosen deficit reduction path, but anybody in Ken Clarke’s post today would be presiding over cuts that can only come from the big cost lines in the Ministry of Justice budget, like the prison estate.

In these circumstances, David Cameron would have been well advised last year to have put a right-winger into Clarke’s job, on the Nixon-goes-to-China principle that a harder-line Conservative would have done a better job of selling inescapable liberal reforms to their own party and the wider public.

Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband want the Tory focus on rehabilitation and finding ways to reduce prison numbers (especially for people on petty crimes) to work.
Ed M said just last week:

Tougher prison sentences aren’t always the answer. I think there are times when people get locked up and come out as harder criminals. Some non-violent offenders can be better punished with a tough community sentence, working off their debt to communities over months rather than getting off with a few days in jail.

But Ken Clarke is the wrong person to sell them for reasons pointed out above. Ed went on to say:

Their prison policy is based not on the need for reform or increased rehabilitation for offenders. It is based on the need to cut costs.

Clarke isn’t tough or soft, he’s been told to cut costs and so he’s following this path, which neatly chimes with Libdem prison policy. But even if David Davis were to replace him (unlikely, I know) the cost-cutting would have to continue.

So if a Tory hard-right-winger comes in and manages to sell a more liberal prison policy (for financial reasons) then it makes it easier for Labour to continue that policy. If Ken Clarke fails to sell them, the pressure on Labour to go back to Jack Straw’s mantra will be immense.


* Of course, there are ideological reasons why Ken Clarke should go too, because of the callous nature of the comments. But here I’m just focusing on the political calculations

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


So in other words: WE WANT HIM GONE GET HIM TO GO

Pathetic. Rid us of an absurdly well-qualified secretary of state for justice in favour of… who? A right-wing div? All this so that Sunny’s party of choice has a better chance come the next general election? Absolutely bloody pathetic. Get a grip.

Yep. I’ve blogged similar. Didn’t enjoy doing it much mind. http://aviewfromhamcommon.blogspot.com/2011/05/deep-sighs-but-credit-where-its-due.html

What an extraordinary post, which can be fairly summed up as: “We should make Clarke quit for political expediency regardless of whether or not his proposals are good for the country.”

Lovely to see Sunny carrying on Labour’s de facto policy of treating the voter as an afterthought.

Why is there next-to-no substantive discussion of “Breaking the Cycle” on this site?

Why is it being characterised as “cutting costs” and not “get young offenders off drugs” (as but one example)?

For shame.

Of course Clarke should go. His escapology is impressive, but ultimately based on an assumption that people are staggeringly gullible, as I outlined the other day – http://s.coop/allmessedup – sadly, it may not be a wholly inaccurate assumption.

“Conservatives also have a problem with women voters, who like them less than male voters as a percentage.”

What’s the polling evidence for this? The latest YouGov has the Tories gathering 33% of the male vote, and 41% of the female vote.

Bastard: “Rid us of an absurdly well-qualified secretary of state for justice”

So well qualified that he doesn’t even know the basic definition of crimes he is discussing on a national broadcaster?

“So well qualified that he doesn’t even know the basic definition of crimes he is discussing on a national broadcaster?”

The man’s a QC. Feel free to recommend a better qualified Tory to run the justice system.

As a member of the LP I’d like to see Ed Milibands resignation, his attack on KC is pathetic.

What are the odds (seriously) on EM still being leader come the next election, i think he’ll be gone within twleve months. Second choice but not even close to being second best.

Leaving aside the political tactics of it all for a second, and focusing on the actual policy consequences of what’s gone on, I think the most damaging aspect is the scapegoating of Crispin Blunt, the Prisons Minister. If Guardian accounts are to be believed – and they ring true – Blunt is the one in the firing line for bringing forward the general idea of reduced sentencing.

Blunt is much more important to driving forward (keeping people out of ) prison policy than Clarke. While his motivations are still pretty mixed up, he does seem a genuine advocate of sensible policy, and appears to be genuinely enthusiastic about the home office/vol sector partnership and joint funding work on alternatives to locking up women, for example, to the extent that govt funding has been retained.

Purely in sensible policy terms then, we could do with defending Blunt, and this in turn means that we should be trying to get Clarke to take the rap, and stop blunt being Cameron’s scapegoat.

But this is where the politics comes back in. Labour incl Miliband need to be defending Blunt as well, in keeping with the promise to defend what may be right about tory policy on prison (whatever the initial motives). At the same time this would serve to drive a wedge between Blunt the Convert and Clarke the Incompetent.

In summary, I agree with Sunny that Labour should continue to call for the head of Clarke, because he is not cuddly – he is a minister without a grasp of his brief – but for different reasons from the ones Sunny puts forward.

8. TorquilMacneil

“Lovely to see Sunny carrying on Labour’s de facto policy of treating the voter as an afterthought.”

Not only an afterthought but an idiot. This is a mistake that Labour and the left has made again and again. But what if the electorate can spot cynical political spin and decide to punish it? That seems to already be happening in this case where Miliband has ended up looking weaker for his attack.

“The man’s a QC. Feel free to recommend a better qualified Tory to run the justice system.”

One who reads his brief, or knows what the law is.

Apart from the fact that there are about 50 lawyers on the Tory benches, I’m not convinced by the argument that justice policy is innately well suited to being run by someone just because they used to be a barrister in their spare time. If the Tories have come round to that corporatist way of thinking, why not replace Andrew Lansley with a doctor, or Michael Gove with a teacher?

“As a member of the LP I’d like to see Ed Milibands resignation, his attack on KC is pathetic.” – as a member what specifically do you think it is appropriate for the Labour Party to do when some politicians claim that certain categories of rape aren’t a big deal?

Shorter version: Labour needs to get rid of Ken Clarke so the Tories will do the right thing (reform) for the wrong reasons (cuts).

Sure I’ll bite: how about Liam Fox? Or maybe John Redwood. Better yet, Nadine Dorries (since Ann Widdecombe is no longer an MP). But seriously, I’m not sure low-rent Westminster skullduggery or some bizarro Tory version of triangulation is really any help here.

@10

Please show me a reference to where KC said “certain categories of rape aren’t a big deal” or withdraw your remark.

I won’t hold my breath.

In the original interview. Have you not been following what this story is about? He was challenged on soft sentences for rapists, and he said no judge would give the kind of sentence he was being challenged about for a “serious, proper rape”. So some categories, in his view, are something other than “serious, proper rape”. Presumably, frivolous, just-kidding, rape.

“If the Tories have come round to that corporatist way of thinking, why not replace Andrew Lansley with a doctor”

I can’t see how you think this would be a bad thing. If anything, yer average doctor would have personal experience of how the NHS works on the ground, unlike the likes of Lansley.

“…they used to be a barrister in their spare time.”

Bollocks. Clarke wasn’t just some beige lawyer. He happened to be a very good barrister, hence the silk – that doesn’t come without knowing things inside out. A verbal fuckup on a live radio show, however inexcusable you and a bunch of expedient knobs may think it is, =/= not knowing his shit.

There are plenty of incompetent ministers more deserving of the sack than Ken Clarke who simply seems to have simply opened his mouth and put both feet in with some very clumsy language. Replace him with Lars Von Trier

“I can’t see how you think this would be a bad thing” – I’m not saying it definitely is, I’m saying there’s a generally held view that it is, and if it is such a good thing as to justify Clarke staying in post, then it ought to apply to other departments. I think the traditional view is that Ministers with that background are considered too likely to see public services from a producer perspective, too vulnerable to civil service and lobby group capture, and likely to take a department line (particularly in an era of cuts) rather than a collective line.

On a bit of a tangent, does anyone else find talk of more or less ‘liberal’ prison policies rather unhelpful? Look at that quote from Ed M:

“Some non-violent offenders can be better punished with a tough community sentence, working off their debt to communities over months rather than getting off with a few days in jail.”

The message here is that a community sentence can be a ‘tougher’ option than a prison sentence. (Which sounds perfectly plausible to me; and I can understand how someone serving a community sentence might be said to be ‘repaying a debt to society’, whereas I’ve never understood how such a debt can be repaid by sitting on a bunk bed for extended periods of time.)

So I think we should be wary of framing the debate in terms of hardline vs. liberal, tough vs. soft etc. The case for reform needs to be made in terms of effectiveness, repayment of debt, the ‘toughness’ of alternatives to prison, facing up to consequences – that sort of stuff. Not being more ‘liberal’ about prison, because (rightly or wrongly) the word has the wrong connotations – relaxed, not strict, anything-goes, etc.

Great to see that old school tribal politics is alive and well in the Labour party. Put the needs of the party ahead everything else, at all costs. Miliband lost what little respect of mine he had for his opportunism last week. Regardless of his reasons for carrying out prison reform, Clarke is undisputably the most liberal member of the cabinet (including the Lib Dems) and it strikes me as bizarre that any left wing politician who genuinely wants what is best for the country would want to see him go. As a Labour supporter I think if anyone does need to go it’s Ed. I don’t think anyone in the country can really see him as PM material and it’s going to gift the tories the next election regardless of how savagely they cut. Getting rid of Miliband would be far better for the party than getting rid of Clarke.

19. Evan Harris

This is fundamentally flawed and a good example of the author “trying to be too clever”.

The supposition is that there is no Coalition ideology around restorative justice, community sentences and effective policy (as opposed to the macho stuff from Blunkett, Straw, Smith, Johnson,etc), and that it’s all about savings/cuts.

That is a reassuring narrative to Labour supporters like the author who are embarrassed (or used to be) by their previous and current posturing on these issues but it is does not stack up. Even the coalition agreement said: “We will seek to spread information on which policing techniques and sentences are most effective at cutting crime across the Criminal Justice System”.

Having the right Secretary of State is vital to getting reform, driving it through and countering the Home Office’s approach in cabinet – something Jack Straw failed to do, time after time. So putting Liam Fox in charge at Justice would scupper liberal reform. Furthermore, given that Labour seems determined to be on the right of the Tories on law and order, a right wing Tory Justice Secretary would mean an even more right-wing Labour stance.

Sunny would be the first to complain about that. Or would he?

20. Akheloios

I’m far from a supporter of this government, I tore up my Liberal Democrat membership card after the fees betrayal.

That said, whether it’s because he believes in a more effective legal system, or it’s because of the demand for cuts, Ken Clarke is the most progressive Justice Secretary in decades (including when Justice and Home were one role). His comments on Rape were indefensible, but the call for him to resign should stem from this, not from any party political advantage it might bring.

We’ve seen the sickening authoritarianism that the 80s and 90s Tories inflicted, that the Labour party were happy to continue into the 00s. Longer sentences, more recidivism, more criminal acts on the statue books, we finally get what the non-authoritarian left wanted, and you want to squander it for party advantage.

Force Ken Clarke out and we’ll get someone who doesn’t only make stupid comments about rape, but someone who actually believes that women, minorities and the poor deserve everything they get, and as Even Harris points out, the Labour Party will raise their flag even further to the right of that just to avoid the Sun giving them a hard front page.

Dreadful OP in my opinion. That’s everything I dislike about politics. The spinning and the dishonesty.

I agreed with Suzanne More at the weekend when she said ”Rape is not a party-political issue and I am disgusted that it has been treated that way this week.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/21/political-impotence-rape-opportunistic-crime

22. Shatterface

Labour has a big, big problem in that Clarke has outflanked them on the left and if he goes they hope he’ll be replaced by a rabid Right-winger who will make Labour appear less draconian without them having to shift position.

Unfortunately the Conservatives could replace Clarke with Vlad the Impaler and they’s still outflank Jack ‘staking’s too good for them’ Straw.

oldpolitics,

He was challenged on soft sentences for rapists, and he said no judge would give the kind of sentence he was being challenged about for a “serious, proper rape”

No, he didn’t.

24. Luis Enrique

this is political strategy is it? well if cold electoral calculus is all you’re interested in, I’d have thought the dominant question is how many voters agree or disagree with calls for Clarke to go, and will be more or less inclined to vote Labour if they make a big fuss out of this.

my guess is that few voters think Clarke should go for this.

ukliberty We should make Clarke quit for political expediency regardless of whether or not his proposals are good for the country.

Man, some of you guys have a wonderful way of completely missing the point.

Its not that hard to understand the proposition. I like what Ken Clarke is doing. But he’s doing it because he’s forced to make cuts to his budget. Now, while I’d like him to carry on doing it, the problem is that he can’t sell his policies to Tories. The polls bear this out.

So someone more right-wing who would carry on as before, but be able to sell them better, is preferable. I’ve repeatedly pointed out I like his direction of travel (though I would oppose reducing rape sentences – I think they should be made much harsher).

The other accusation of this being ‘spin’ just misunderstand the point and are gibberish.

Evan:
The supposition is that there is no Coalition ideology around restorative justice, community sentences and effective policy

If there is, then why should you have problems with someone like Chris Grayling taking over?

So putting Liam Fox in charge at Justice would scupper liberal reform.

but you just said the coalition was united around having a more restorative justice policy?

Furthermore, given that Labour seems determined to be on the right of the Tories on law and order

As I’ve pointed out above, Ed Miliband isn’t to the right on certain parts. He does believe in rehabilitation and he believes in leniency for people on minor crimes so tehy don’t enter the cycle of prison.

I think you’re being disingenuous by characterising his policy as a continuation of Jack Straw’s policies when Ed M is a lot more nuanced than that.

26. Mr S. Pill

While I kinda agree with asking for the scalp of a Tory big beast being a politically good move etc I’d rather Ed asked for the immediate resignation of the sickening Nadine Dorries who claimed that child abuse would fall if children were taught to say No to their abusers. (Because apparently it’s up to the child to stop abuse, I suppose). Dorries’ comments were far more offensive than Clarke’s but got barely 10% of the attention as far as I can tell.

Paul: Purely in sensible policy terms then, we could do with defending Blunt, and this in turn means that we should be trying to get Clarke to take the rap, and stop blunt being Cameron’s scapegoat.

This is a good point.

Sunny,

Man, some of you guys have a wonderful way of completely missing the point.

Or, you didn’t make the point particularly well.

The first half of your OP is about “Calling for KC’s resignation” to “hurt the Conservatives”, hence my comment @3. If you don’t want your position to be (mis)construed as calling for political expedience, perhaps you shouldn’t talk about ways to hurt the opposition.

And quite why you think “a Tory hard-right-winger” will deliver “a more liberal prison policy” I don’t know.

29. Shatterface

‘Its not that hard to understand the proposition. I like what Ken Clarke is doing. But he’s doing it because he’s forced to make cuts to his budget.’

The point of EVIDENCE BASED policy making is that it takes questions of motivation out of the equation. It doesn’t MATTER if the Tories are cutting prison numbers to save money, any more than if Labour were increasing the population because ministers had invested in private prisons (which is precisely what you’d be accusing the Tories of if they were extending sentences).

You aren’t offering valid criticisms of their POLICIES just conspiracy theories about motivation. At best your comments are irrelevant.

“Bollocks. Clarke wasn’t just some beige lawyer. He happened to be a very good barrister, hence the silk – that doesn’t come without knowing things inside out.”

Not so much. He might have been, of course. But up until the 1990s lawyers who became MPs were given “courtesy QCs”. Clarke became a QC in 1980.

So it’s a bit like affirmative action: we don’t know whether he’s a QC on merit or not.

There’s no particular listing of important cases who prosecuted/defended that I can see lying around.

For example, Harriet Harman’s QC:

“Harman made a return to the front bench after the 2001 general election, with her appointment to the office of Solicitor General, thus becoming the first female Solicitor General. In accordance with convention, she was appointed as Queen’s Counsel, although she was never a barrister, had no rights of audience in the higher courts, did not obtain them and never presented a case during her time as Solicitor General, or at all.”

Vera Baird’s QC however is real: 25 years as a working barrister and got silk the year before she became an MP. Grieves’ is real, Garnier’s may or may not be (courtesy QCs for MPs died out sometime in mid 90s).

Fund stuff, eh?

“Fun” ……

“But here I’m just focusing on the political calculations”

Fair play to Sunny. He’s totally upfront about his motives.

(and Harperson’s Guardian piece is getting absolutely beasted in the comments)

Sunny/25: Now, while I’d like him to carry on doing it, the problem is that he can’t sell his policies to Tories. The polls bear this out.

Do they? Looking at the most recent YouGov/Sunday Times polling, page 6 has Conservatives tied 45:45 on the prison/community sentence question. (Lib Dems strongly in favour of community sentences, Labour somewhat in favour of prison). Given where you might expect Conservative voters to fall on that scale, he’s perhaps doing fairly well at selling it.

Conservative voters also generally approve (page 6 again) of the job he’s doing at Justice.

Tim is right, the convention (now abandoned) was to award silk to all barrister MPs. So far as I know, the only MP in recent years with a “real” silk was Michael Howard.

As for the article, I don’t know where to begin. I once asked one of our MPs what she thought of the then current threat to close London Zoo. She replied that she thought zoos were cruel but would object to it closing if it were only being done for financial reasons. The (let’s call it) reasoning appears similar here. Of course it’s possible to out Daily Mail the Tories on this, but ultimately to what end?

30 – KC gave up practising at the bar when he became an MP I believe, at 30. He was apparently a pretty good barrister, but he’s definitely an artificial silk. There’s only been one party leader who’s been a proper QC – Michael Howard.

The first half of your OP is about “Calling for KC’s resignation” to “hurt the Conservatives”

Hell, even the tories admit its hurting them! I’m just stating facts. See Lord Ashcroft’s polling for the best elaboration on this.

I’m amused that pointing out the obvious (that KC is seen as too liberal or that Labour should try and undermine the Tories) is greeted with such howls.

The point of EVIDENCE BASED policy making is that it takes questions of motivation out of the equation.

apparently there are naive people in this world who actually believe Cameron is pushing a liberal, reformist policy on prisons and reducing sentences and prison numbers because he believes in it.shatterface you’re beyond a joke.

23. ukliberty: No, he didn’t.

Yeah, he did. He said “serious” on the BBC, to which you have linked, and then on Sky later on (rather giving the lie to his defenders who claim it was a momentary slip of the tongue, he said “”These are scare stories. No-one is saying a serious, proper rape case is going to be let out of prison after 12 months.”

38. TorquilMacneil

“apparently there are naive people in this world who actually believe Cameron is pushing a liberal, reformist policy on prisons and reducing sentences and prison numbers because he believes in it.”

Since it is hurting him politically to do this and he can afford not to, Occam requires us to prefer that explanation.

Sunny,

Hell, even the tories admit its hurting them! I’m just stating facts. See Lord Ashcroft’s polling for the best elaboration on this.

I’m not sure what the Tories “admit” has anything to do with your position (as I see it) on political expediency being more important than what is right, and you taking exception to my criticism of you for that. Do you allow the Tories to set the standards you feel you must meet?

As for,

apparently there are naive people in this world who actually believe Cameron is pushing a liberal, reformist policy on prisons and reducing sentences and prison numbers because he believes in it

I don’t know what Cameron truly believes. ISTM Clarke thinks rehabilitation is important and the right thing to do.

@13 oldpolitics

Here you go again “Presumably, frivolous, just-kidding, rape.”

Making it up as you go along

Don’t work for the Mail do you?

oldpolitics, it was obvious to me from the context and before his ‘clarifications’ later on that he was trying to get across the point that sentencing depends on the circumstances while being badgered by an interviewer (Derbyshire) who bizarrely claimed the average sentence is 5 years (because she did not understand 5 years is in fact the starting point in the sentencing guidelines) and that rapists would be out in 1½ years. I happened to think he was insensitive and did not choose his words carefully. I don’t think it was something that he should resign over. YMMV.

I wonder why people around here keep arguing about what he said on that occasion rather than the policies he is pushing?

40: No, I don’t. What do you regard as the opposite of “serious, proper”?

41: So in one thread Clarke has gone from Bastard’s portrait of him as one of the most brilliant lawyers of his generation, to being someone who can’t choose words which convey his intended meaning, even when given a second chance on a different channel, and who despite over 40 years as an MP crumbles under badgering from a daytime radio presenter.

The calcualtions in the OP may suit Westminster Machiavellians but I doubt they’ll have any significance to the country. This whole business will be forgotten in a week unless something happens, so one should ask how the country would benefit if Clarke was forced out?

I suspect most people find Clarke’s affability congenial and would say he’s doing a good job. The more informed might agree that the reforms he’s introducing were long needed. We end up with a justice system we’ve needed for decades but for the wrong reasons? Who cares?

Would someone else, a more right-wing, ideological type, follow the same route as Clarke? Might they be more inclined towards asking their American friends to come and invest in our prison service? The prospects must increase in other hands but Clarke’s.

For me, he annoys the right people, and though I stood out in the rain picketing against his attacks on the ambulance service years ago I quite like him, so gun for someone else. Lansley must be the low hanging fruit in that game.

And for me, to improve the prospect that I will vote Labour in the next election, Ed still has much housework to do.

oldpolitics @42,

41: So in one thread Clarke has gone from Bastard’s portrait of him as one of the most brilliant lawyers of his generation, to being someone who can’t choose words which convey his intended meaning, even when given a second chance on a different channel, and who despite over 40 years as an MP crumbles under badgering from a daytime radio presenter.

I didn’t make or agree with the claim Bastard made @1. I agree with Bastard’s claim that Clarke fucked up. I didn’t say Clarke crumbled.

45. Shatterface

‘apparently there are naive people in this world who actually believe Cameron is pushing a liberal, reformist policy on prisons and reducing sentences and prison numbers because he believes in it.shatterface you’re beyond a joke.’

Jesus wept – you can’t even grasp the basics of what I said. I even used fucking CAPITALS to make it easy for you.

See this bit? ‘ It doesn’t MATTER if the Tories are cutting prison numbers to save money’. Somewhere along its long, lonely journey from your eyes to your brain that message translates as ‘the Tories believe in liberal reform’? Do your neurons communicate electro-chemically, or by Chinese whispers?

Their motivation DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER. It doesn’t matter if the Tories are going to spend all the money they save snorting coke off the thighs of teenage hookers – what matters is that their policies will result in a liberalisation of the draconian prison policy of the party you support.

Motivation doesn’t matter: even if your motivation was ‘progressive’ you’d still be a reactionary.

It is truly amazing IMO to see how much heat all this produces while issues of conflicts of interest on the part of ministers and their spouses – as with Diane Abbott’s thread – attract relatively little interest.

Predictably, there is no discussion of false allegations of rape as in cases such as this:

“The judges spoke out as they dismissed an appeal by a former nurse who was jailed for two years after falsely accusing a man she met online. Jennifer Day, 35, made the claim against Andrew Saxby, who she met through a dating website, following a row in a case that cost £4,000 of taxpayers’ money and 270 police man hours. She was jailed at Basildon Crown Court in July this year after being convicted of perverting the course of justice by making a false complaint of rape.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/6468036/Prison-inevitable-for-false-rape-claims.html

I suspect most people find Clarke’s affability congenial and would say he’s doing a good job.

Which is why, from the purely tribal perspective that Sunny’s taking here, getting him to resign (or be sacked) would be a good thing for Labour. The Coalition loses one of its more persuasive and electorally attractive figures (and like it or not, that’s what Ken is. Dominic Grieve just doesn’t have quite the same resonance) and Labour get to look tough on crime and influential over the Government.

Which is why, obviously, Cameron won’t sack Clarke. He’s very unlikely to reshuffle his cabinet at all, unless absolutely forced to by matters outside his control. It was the perpetual reshuffling of ministers (10 transport ministers in 13 years for example) that did so much to neuter the effectiveness of Labour in government over the years.

And that leads us to a question – if it is a given that Clarke will not in fact resign, does continuing to call for that resignation make Labour look strong or weak? From a purely tribal viewpoint, I agree that Ed should carry on calling for a resignation that won’t happen…

Predictably, there is no discussion of false allegations of rape as in cases such as this

What relevance does it have to this thread?

@48: “What relevance does it have to this thread?”

Because Clarke is repeatedly blamed for suggesting that there are different degrees of rape. If we are discussing the context of the accusations then false allegations of rape by attention seeking women is a relevant part of that context.

Because Clarke is repeatedly blamed for suggesting that there are different degrees of rape. If we are discussing the context of the accusations then false allegations of rape by attention seeking women is a relevant part of that context.

Why? Neither Clarke nor any of his critics, IIRC, even mentioned false allegations in this context. What relevance do they have to the matter(s) under discussion?

“Neither Clarke nor any of his critics, IIRC, even mentioned false allegations in this context.”

In neglecting to mention cases of false charges of rape, they obviously overlooked an important aspect of the charges made against Clarke for suggesting that there are degrees of rape.

I’m trying to rectify the imbalance by introducing an important and overlooked dimension in court cases where the credibility of personal testimony is often crucial in trials and where claims of “consent” is a regular defence.

In that context, personal testimony by victims versus the claims of defendants is often critical in securing convictions. My guess is that Clarke didn’t mention it – despite his many years of experience of trials as an attorney – because he figured that he was in enough political hot water as it was.

How common are false allegations? It is not possible to establish an exact figure and the research that is available gives a wide range of suggested percentages. Some research suggests that a figure of eight to ten per cent of reported rapes could well be false reports.33 However, those we spoke to in the system felt that there were very few. A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyer told us, ‘They are extremely rare. I have been prosecuting for 20 years, and have prosecuted for a false allegation once.’ The judges we talked to said these cases occur very infrequently. An experienced police officer had come across two such cases in 15 years. – Stern Review on Rape Reporting

I still don’t know why Bob thinks false allegations are on-topic, though.

53. Shatterface

‘In neglecting to mention cases of false charges of rape, they obviously overlooked an important aspect of the charges made against Clarke for suggesting that there are degrees of rape.’

False allegations aren’t rape, of any degree.

You might as well say accusations of killing people still, in fact, alive, demonstrate the different degree of culpability between murder and manslaughter.

“I still don’t know why Bob thinks false allegations are on-topic, though.”

I’ve made a case @51 for saying why false rape allegations are especially relevant in trials of rape cases and to the political charges made against Clarke for suggesting that there are different degrees of rape.

Isn’t it curious how libertarians believe that others are not entitled to hold, express and defend different views from their own in public debate?

55. Mr S. Pill

@Bob B

Bringing up the issue of false allegations when not even Clarke himself did so is simply concern trolling for the sake of it.

“While I kinda agree with asking for the scalp of a Tory big beast being a politically good move etc I’d rather Ed asked for the immediate resignation of the sickening Nadine Dorries…”

Mr Pill. When I last checked, Dorries wasn’t in the Cabinet. ‘Beast’ she may be, but ‘big beast’ hopefully never.

“Bringing up the issue of false allegations when not even Clarke himself did so is simply concern trolling for the sake of it”

I have said @51 why I believe false allegations of rape are especially relevant in this context and suggested why Clarke omitted to mention this aspect, probably figuring he was already in enough political hot water.

The credibility and reliability of personal testimony is crucial in rape trials where consent is claimed as a defence so the possibility of false accusations is an issue that courts need to be repeatedly aware of when there is little or no forensic evidence to support claims of force.

This is obviously challenging to grasp but there are folk who hold and express different views from yourself.

Bob B,

Isn’t it curious how libertarians believe that others are not entitled to hold, express and defend different views from their own in public debate?

If you’re alluding to me, (1) I am not a libertarian and (2) at no point have I said, suggested, implied or believe that “others are not entitled to hold, express and defend different views from their own in public debate”. All I have done in our exchanges today is disagree with you.

59. Shatterface

‘Isn’t it curious how libertarians believe that others are not entitled to hold, express and defend different views from their own in public debate?’

You aren’t expressing a view on the topic in hand, you are simply indulging in free association. A false allegation of rape isn’t a lesser ‘degree of seriousness’ of rape – its just not rape.

The sentences for rape aren’t reduced on the assumption that some people might be wrongfully convicted of rape because guilt is a matter for the trial to determine beyond a reasonable doubt. A judge doesn’t say ‘I’m going to give you four years instead of five because I’m only 80% certain you did it’ or ‘The Court finds you innocent but I’m going to give yiu a couple of months anyway because there’s no smoke without fire’.

60. Watchman

Bob,

I suspect Mr Clarke failed to mention false accusations, because that (or wasting police time) is a seperate criminal offence, and nothing to do with the sentancing of actual rapists…

But if you want to keep diverting this thread, Sunny will probably thank you – it’s not read well for him.

61. Watchman

Bob,

Isn’t it curious how libertarians believe that others are not entitled to hold, express and defend different views from their own in public debate?

No – because they don’t…

People disagreeing with you here are all doing it because your views on false accusations being relevant to the thread are incredibly stupid…

Bob,

Clarke was being asked about sentencing for rape and being criticised in terms of discounts for early guilty pleas.

In such a context, why on earth would he start talking about false allegations? They are irrelevant.

Shatterface @53 eloquently skewers your point.

63. Shatterface

‘The credibility and reliability of personal testimony is crucial in rape trials where consent is claimed as a defence so the possibility of false accusations is an issue that courts need to be repeatedly aware of when there is little or no forensic evidence to support claims of force.’

Call me an optimist but I’m pretty sure rape trials address issues like this. I believe the accused is actually represented by professionals to whom the possibility of their client’s innocence is actually considered.

@62: “Shatterface @53 eloquently skewers your point.”

That’s rubbish.

There is extensive evidence of miscarriages of justice in – for example – convictions in murder trials.

In rape trials, where convictions, as well as acquittals, can crucially depend on the credibility and reliability of personal testimony in the absence of conclusive forensic evidence, the possibility of false accusations becomes especially important in the judicial process. From the available data, only half the trials for rape result in convictions. Evidently, something went seriously wrong in the other half of the cases for the trials to end with acquittals of the accused.

That fundament point has not been “skewered”. Far from it.

65. Mr S. Pill

@56

Oh I know. That’s why I made the distinction ‘twixt Clarke and Dorries. It makes more political/tactical sense for Miliband to call for the resignation of a high-profile cabinet member rather than a persistently wrong (and batshit crazy) backbencher – but I still think she should be sacked/expelled from the party.

Shatterface/59: And, indeed, given that the policy that gave Clarke the opportunity to make his comments was “reducing sentences for those that plead guilty early”, I think we can be fairly sure that in those cases they did commit the crime. (That, or they were given really bad legal advice)

This sort of unprincipled opportunism is why swathes of the population are completely turned off by politics and even those who aren’t have no trust in politicians nor political parties.
I try to instill my kids with a belief that politics matters, but I read this and think “who am I kidding?”

As others have said, it doesn’t damn well matter what the motivations behind the proposed changes in penal policy might be. The fact is that most of the suggested reforms in Breaking The Cycle are eminently sensible and a welcome change from the long string of Home and Justice Secretaries over the last twenty years (Howard, Straw, Blunkett, Reid, Clarke, Smith, Johnson) who saw – and evidently still see themselves – as auditioning for a parliamentary remake of Dirty Harry, still trotting out the ould bollix about prison working, when even the most cursory examination of the evidence would show that – particularly as it relates to comparatively minor offences and the short prison sentences which tend to go with them – the opposite is true (recidivism rates about 50% for adult ex-prisoners, 70%+ for young offenders).

A shift in policy is long overdue after the posturing of the last two decades, and whatever brings that shift about is to be welcomed. Milliband, Cooper, Straw (I mean Jack “One Hundred New Offences A Week” Straw ffs!) and Harman’s interventions have been pathetic, cheap, populism informed by a desire to court Neanderthal hackrags and a deep intellectual dishonesty.

Clarke is probably the one in the best position to take the proposed reforms forwards, and if Sunny and one or two others here want to take the very real risk of derailing them just for the sake of chanting “We got a minister sacked! We got a minister sacked!”, then it speaks of nothing other than the total ethical void in and around the Labour Party.

The only funny thing about it all was that the Independent felt the need to tag Milliband’s ghost-written comment piece the other day with the words:

“Ed Miliband MP is Leader of the Labour Party”

I suppose we would never had known otherwise…

“I try to instill my kids with a belief that politics matters”

But it does matter. Britain has one of the largest per capita prison populations in western Europe:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/06/uk_prisons_in_the_uk/html/1.stm

Perhaps we are unusually wicked and criminal as a nation or perhaps we have a bad judicial policy and sentencing system.

For these following reasons, it makes good sense to reconsider the costs of prosecutions and imprisonment when public spending is being cut back and departmental budgets are subject to acute pressures:

“Jailing one young criminal costs the taxpayer as much as £140,000 a year, a report says today. Locking up young offenders makes them more likely to commit further crimes and be unemployed later in life, the New Economics Foundation says.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/mar/01/jail-young-offenders-rehabilitation

PQ on 11 January 2011: Philip Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what the average cost of a prison place in (a) England and (b) Wales was in the latest period for which figures are available. [32311]

Mr Blunt: For 2008-09 (latest period available), the overall average cost per place in England was £45,000 and, in Wales was £53,000 (figures to nearest 1,000).
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110111/text/110111w0003.htm

Bob,

In rape trials, where convictions, as well as acquittals, can crucially depend on the credibility and reliability of personal testimony in the absence of conclusive forensic evidence, the possibility of false accusations becomes especially important in the judicial process. From the available data, only half the trials for rape result in convictions. Evidently, something went seriously wrong in the other half of the cases for the trials to end with acquittals of the accused.

That fundament point has not been “skewered”. Far from it.

What ‘went seriously wrong’, if indeed it can be put that way, which it oughtn’t, is that ~50% of the prosecutors failed to persuade the court beyond reasonable doubt. AFAIK, until now no-one has suggested this means ~50% of allegations could be false!

71. Charlieman

In the OP, Sunny quotes Nick Pearce at the IPPR: “The drive to cut prison places and reform sentencing policy is the result of the government’s fiscal policy, as a number of commentators have pointed out. Whoever won power last May would have had to cut the prison estate, offender management staff and policing budgets.”

The IPPR statement is not entirely coherent, but it is something with which to work.

Firstly “Whoever won power last May…” reminds us that a Labour or Labour/LibDem government would be looking for cash savings in the justice/enforcement system.

Secondly, reducing incarcerations imposes a load on offender management. In plain English, if you don’t bang up the offender you need a working probation service which costs money. You can’t cut both at the same time.

On the third point, police budgets, I’ll bite my tongue. Police authorities are far more imaginative than me in inventing ways to piss away money.

But the second point is a liberal opportunity. We want offenders to reform, thus we have to support them in rehabilitation. Ken Clarke has said that he doesn’t believe in short term sentences for petty offences and believes in rehabilitation within general society. So we should be holding him and the government to meet that ambition, and asking for the money to do it.


In spite of the headline, I enjoyed this article about “Yobs given free tickets to musicals by police”: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8527866/Yobs-given-free-tickets-to-musicals-by-police.html

It was about showing kids something wonderful, about sparking ambition and imagination. Brilliant policing.

The Telegraph even tells us who the “yobs” were: “Scotland Yard said youths taken on the theatre trips were “offenders, on child protection plans, on the verge of exclusion or have parents who have been convicted of serious offences”.”

72. Gerard Blair

Agree very cynical and mean spirited article. A genuine desire to improve rape convictions should come before party politics.

73. Robin Levett

“So if a Tory hard-right-winger comes in and manages to sell a more liberal prison policy (for financial reasons) then it makes it easier for Labour to continue that policy.”

What colour is the sky in your world, Sunny? It’s blue over here in the real world. The last Labour Government proved that the one policy your party could not possibly afford to have, even if it actually wanted one, is a liberal justice policy. Why should we believe that a party which had 13 years to adopt a rational, liberal justice policy and instead had a succession of Home Secretaries that made Michael Howard look like he had something of the day about him, is going to change its spots. The attack on Clarke because he is too liberal isn’t an aberration or political calculation – it’s the way your party thinks.

As for the ostensible basis for the attacks, and oldpolitic’s tantrums and misquotes of Clarke upthread; Clarke’s mistake was in being too generous to Derbyshire; he believed she could recognise statistics when she saw them and struggled to reconcile them to the facts as he knew them to be, and assumed that the “stats” must include the section 9 offence (which HHJ Barrington Black was happy to regard as rape in a letter to the Indy on Friday) and what he referred to as “date rape”. In fact, she simply didn’t know what she was talking about, and he made the mistake of following her down the rabbit-hole.

It is deeply opportunistic and cynical, and hardly liberal (albeit typical of certain variants of NuLabour), to make political capital out of this at the expense of those who would benefit from a sensible, liberal and rational justice policy.

I agree with what Rachel Cooke said in the Observer yesterday.

Why drown Ken Clarke in this tidal wave of phony anger?
The reaction to the justice secretary’s rape remarks proves that true political discourse a thing of the past.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/22/ken-clarke-rape-debate

This thread was just for the blogosphere attritional trench warfare between left and right, which is pretty boring for 98% of the population.
It’s like an episode of The Thick of It.

shatterface: It doesn’t matter if the Tories are going to spend all the money they save snorting coke off the thighs of teenage hookers – what matters is that their policies will result in a liberalisation of the draconian prison policy of the party you support.

I don’t think you’re getting it. I know the motivation doesn’t matter. That is also my point. Which is why I’m saying it doesn’t matter whether Ken Clarke goes or stays – the policy will remain.

Several readers have accused me trying to wreck prison reform. But as I keep saying – is the opposite. I want the reforms to work and I want Sadiq Khan to be able to continue them without Jack Straw’s legacy coming back. Which is why I’d prefer someone else push those plans than Ken clarke…. since the policy will remain the same (because of the motivation).

Does that make it any more clearer?

Sunny @75:

But who is more likely to be able to push those policies through against the screaming of tabloids, the grinding dentures of Tory backwoodspersons and the opportunistic wittering of the Labour front bench: Clarke or some junior who will turn whichever the triangulatory wind is perceived to be blowing?

Besides which, I don’t entirely buy in to the idea that these policies would be pushed through by any government simply on economic grounds. When governments get into trouble, they know that they can’t go far wrong by bashing three categories of people: immigrants, welfare recipients and criminals (or, if you’re Phil Woolas, all three at once). There’s no reason to think that this government would be any different when push came to shove.

77. Robin Levett

“Several readers have accused me trying to wreck prison reform. But as I keep saying – is the opposite. I want the reforms to work and I want Sadiq Khan to be able to continue them without Jack Straw’s legacy coming back.”

And what makes you think that NuNuLabour will want the same thing as you? What about Ed MIlliband’s intervention gives you any inkling that he might actually want anything other than Jack Straw’s approach? I don’t remember him leading a backbench revolt against the more illiberal elements of the last government’s justice policy – but maybe I missed it.

Besides which, I don’t entirely buy in to the idea that these policies would be pushed through by any government simply on economic grounds. When governments get into trouble, they know that they can’t go far wrong by bashing three categories of people: immigrants, welfare recipients and criminals (or, if you’re Phil Woolas, all three at once). There’s no reason to think that this government would be any different when push came to shove.

Agreed. Of course in the current climate financial considerations will influence policy in all areas so we can’t pretend that they are not relevent here but there are other less palatable ways that costs could be reduced, such as increased overcrowding in prisons and cutting back on programs to assist rehabilitation and treat drug problems.
I think it’s fair to say that Clarke is his own man, by temperament and due to him no longer harbouring any wider political ambitions, and he is pushing his liberal reforms because he believes in them. It is no secret that Cameron is under pressure from the right wingers in his party who hate Clarke’s approach (and Clarke himself most likely) and it is by no means safe to assume that a new justice secretary from would pursue the same policies.
So one reason that some of us on the left are uncomfortable with Miliband’s approach on this issue is that we simply believe that there is a real danger of the Tories slipping back into populist authoritarianism of Clarke goes. Another (at least for me personally) is that I still don’t fully trust Labour to have ditched the populist authoritarian approach of Straw, Blunkett etc. I think Miliband’s instincts are right but he may not be getting the best advice, and so I am very uncomfortable when he or other Labour politicians seem to be playing the “soft on crime” card against the Tories, as Alan Johnson did for example when Clarke initially announced his proposals on sentencing last year.
So this argument isn’t just about Clarke himself or what will hurt the Tories, it’s about the kind of Labour Party we want to see.

Sunny @ 75:

“Which is why I’m saying it doesn’t matter whether Ken Clarke goes or stays – the policy will remain.”

If Clarke is forced out for appearing to be insufficiently harsh on rapists, do you really think it will be politically possible for the next Lord Chancellor to continue with a more liberal policy?

(Also, on a more trivial note, the expression “more clearer” is extremely bad grammar.)

This is a breathtakingly mindless argument – suggesting as it does that making rubbish points that distract from what is a very serious issue is somehow defensible because it destabilises the Tories. It is extremely patronising to the electorate who (in the main) want to hear politicians contribute intelligently to issues they care about (and they really do care about rape and sentencing).

As I’ve said on another website, Ken Clarke is actually right about rape sentencing (which is the issue here, not rape itself which is the misunderstanding by some on the feminist left and, sadly, Ed Miliband) and has been a far more progressive Minister for Justice than those we enjoyed under Labour who brought us numerous Criminal Justice Acts and other pieces of authoritarian legislation that were based more upon posturing to the right wing press than addressing the actual issues.

http://www.allthatsleft.co.uk/2011/05/is-ken-clarke-right-about-rape/

Surely the best way of undermining the Littlejohns of this world be for reform to be seen to work under the Tories (whatever their motivation)? If a big beast like Ken Clarke falls at the first hurdle, whoever replaces him will have to be more in the Straw/Blunkett mould and all the parties shift further to the right.

Also, given Labour’s string of reactionary Home Secretaries, your faith in Sadiq Khan seems extremely optimistic.

I really want to beleive that Labour has something progressive to offer under EdM, but this whole saga just reminds me that he was an integral part of the Blair/Brown governments’ obsession with out-Torying the Tories.

saga update:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13544397

A good example of the differences between newspapers: the Guardian doesn’t mention Gabrielle Browne’s positive comments at all while the Metro reports her broad agreement but not her caveats.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why Labour should continue demanding Ken Clarke's resignation http://bit.ly/kJOHGP

  2. Richard Bate

    unfollow.. RT @libcon: Why Labour should continue demanding Ken Clarke's resignation http://t.co/bckkcoq

  3. sdv_duras

    RT @libcon: Why Labour should continue demanding Ken Clarke's resignation http://bit.ly/kJOHGP "If Ken Clark… (cont) http://deck.ly/~b1idz

  4. sdv_duras

    I avoid liberal conspiracy because logic such as this is simply annoying http://bit.ly/kJOHGP bt from antiRape to the labour party, well!

  5. Hugo K Biedermann

    More priceless sub from LibCon "Cameron will find it harder to fire him b/c it looks like he’s giving in to the Tories" http://t.co/q67YzjR

  6. Dr Evan Harris

    My response at comment 19 RT sunny_hundal Why Lab shld continue demanding Clarke’s resignation http://bit.ly/kJOHGP (cc:@steverichards14)

  7. Sean McHale

    My response at comment 19 RT sunny_hundal Why Lab shld continue demanding Clarke’s resignation http://bit.ly/kJOHGP (cc:@steverichards14)

  8. Lee Griffin

    My response at comment 19 RT sunny_hundal Why Lab shld continue demanding Clarke’s resignation http://bit.ly/kJOHGP (cc:@steverichards14)

  9. sunny hundal

    "If Ken Clarke can't sell Coalition prison reform, the pressure on Labour to go back to Jack Straw’s ways will be huge" http://bit.ly/kJOHGP

  10. Michael Bater

    Why Labour should continue demanding Ken Clarke’s resignation | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/H8oeObi via @libcon

  11. Ken Clarke might have been clumsy with his words but Labour’s top guns are being malicious with theirs « Hynd's Blog

    […] Sunny Hundal pointed out, the Tories have two big problems facing them. One is a law and order image problem, […]





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