Ken Clarke’s prisoner plan is torn up by Cameron
The PM seems to have got the message - that he cannot trust his cabinet’s political nous
How long can Ken Clarke last after being called in by David Cameron and having his controversial plans for a 50 per cent discount on jail torn up before his eyes? The word from the Ken Bunker is that he is "not in the mood to be finessed" and that either there’s going to be an ugly confrontation or the old bruiser might decide this is one humiliation too far and retire to the backbenches.
The fact is Clarke's plan for cutting the jail terms of offenders who plead guilty at an early stage caused outrage among Tory grass-roots activists who were appalled to see Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, stealing the Conservatives' 'law and order' mantle.
As a result, Cameron returned from his holiday in Ibiza with law and order top of his list of priorities.
He also appears to have got the message that unless he gets a grip on Downing Street fast, his premiership will be a one-term wonder. He now seems determined to keep closer control on issues, and scrap the collegiate approach among the Cabinet chums, whom he was trusting to have the political nous to get on with their portfolios while he got on with running the country.
Cameron was keen to avoid the micro-management that turned Gordon Brown into the Madman of Number Ten. But too many policy screw-ups have ensued.
His first act was to deliver the major NHS speech on Tuesday to try to convince the public that the doomed Lansley reforms to GP funding were not a secret plan to privatise their beloved health service.
Then, within hours of delivering his NHS speech, Camo called in Clarke for a painful one-to-one meeting in Number Ten. It came after Nick Herbert, Clarke's junior justice minister, let slip the fact on the BBC Politics Show that Clarke's discounts could lead to 10,000 offenders having their sentences cut in half.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice minister, pounced. "Despite calls from victims' groups and top judges, this Tory-led government are still proposing a policy that flies in the face of justice," said Khan. His words would have struck like a dagger in the heart of Camo and his high command.
The result was yesterday's carpeting for Ken. Downing Street is confirming Camo has ordered a complete re-think of the policy - which is a euphemism for scrapping it to save some of Ken's blushes. And now Home Officials will have to find other ways of saving the £100 million which it is estimated that cutting prison sentences in half for guilty pleas could have saved the Justice Department budget.
But that is not the end of the affair.
This is not the first time Clarke has screwed up in recent weeks. There were his blundering remarks about rape, when he suggested that there was a difference between 'real rape' and lesser forms of rape. Clarke was correct in judicial terms, but hopelessly wrong in political terms, and he had to apologise for it.
Some on the old wet wing of the Tory party have claimed that Ken - the arch europhile in the cabinet - is unsackable because he speaks for the liberal pro-European wing of the Conservative party.
For years, Ken has also traded on the perception that he is a big hitter, feared by Labour, because he speaks in terms that ordinary blokes at the Dog and Duck can understand. He has also traded on goodwill in the Commons from the many MPs on both sides who like him.
All that cash in the bank has been spent now. Ken has got until the recess of Parliament on July 27 before he can expect to be reshuffled out of the way by Cameron. Or he may decide to say 'stuff it' and be the first big Tory gun to leave the coalition cabinet. Either way, Ken's days are numbered. ·
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