Ken Clarke was in the right - but will he resign? No
Justice minister shows he has no stomach for a fight while Cameron performs another U-turn
Ken Clarke should be contemplating becoming the first Conservative in the coalition cabinet to resign after his humiliation by David Cameron over shorter sentences, but senior Tories say he hasn't got the guts for a fight.
The justice secretary knows he was fundamentally right to propose offering discounts of 50 per cent on sentences in cases where the offender pleads guilty at an early stage - for three good reasons. It would have cut the numbers in prison, saved money, and in rape cases, avoided more women the pain of having to give evidence by persuading their attackers to plead guilty.
Cameron, however, was incensed when he heard Labour leader Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet ministers attacking the Tories for being "soft on crime". Worse, Labour's view was backed by both the Daily Mail and the Sun. It was inevitable that Cameron - in an assertion of so-called leadership - would order Clarke to tear up his plans.
And it suited Downing Street after a series of U-turns - particularly on the NHS - forced on Cameron by the Lib Dems to brief the media that this time the PM was also overriding the wishes of his deputy Nick Clegg, who backed Clarke. It showed 'who is boss' in Downing Street.
Someone ought to get Cameron a tea mug with BOSS written on it, just to convince him he's in charge.
Ken Clarke knows he was right, because of three shocking statistics - it costs £45,000 per year to keep an offender behind bars; 50 per cent of prisoners re-offend; and half of those in prison are drug-related criminals. Prison alone does not work.
Clarke must now find £130 million to cut elsewhere in his budget. Spending on probation is expected to be reduced with possibly damaging consequences for the law-abiding society as more offenders are not properly supervised because the system is overloaded.
Meanwhile, the new get-tough policies announced yesterday - guaranteed prison terms for knife crimes, more life terms for dangerous criminals - mean the prison population will grow even faster. How about bringing back prison hulks to accommodate them, Ken?
Clarke must now regard the justice system as seriously flawed, but word reaches the Mole that he has made it clear he is not about to walk out on his cushy job.
David Davis, the former Tory minister, recently shared a glass or two of whisky with Ken to discuss a campaign Davis was running, and the former special forces man came away with the distinct impression that Ken has lost the old fire that made him one of the Tories' most feared big beasts. "He hasn't got the stomach for a fight," Davis told friends.
Cameron is now facing an even bigger test with the threatened rolling coordinated strikes on June 30 by at least three big public sector unions - the National Union of Teachers, the CPS, which represents civil servants, and the RMT transport union under former communist Bob Crow, who is threatening action on the London tube and anything else he can think of. Dave Prentis of Unison has also signalled that the strikes to protect public sector workers' pensions are political, designed to "send this coalition packing".
'Call me Dave' Cameron, having been parodied by Labour as Thatcher reincarnated, is turning out to be a big softie who has now performed so many U-turns that Conservative MPs are privately comparing him to former Tory PM Ted Heath - the ultimate insult. ·
Comments are now closed on this article