Calls for Clarke to go after Stone Age rape remark
Ken Clarke might have meant well, but his arguments and his language have caused fury
Ken Clarke looked more red-faced than usual when he was door-stepped coming out of the BBC studios on Millbank today. And no wonder. The justice secretary had just seen his policy for plea-bargaining in rape cases blow up in his face.
One rape victim broke down in tears on Radio 5 Live as she confronted Clarke over his plans to halve sentences for rapists who plead guilty at the first opportunity. The woman said she was put through almost two years of trauma before her attacker pleaded guilty. She warned that Clarke's plans would be "a disaster".
Referring to the morning newspaper headlines about his proposals, Clarke later said on Sky News: "Rape has been singled out as an example mainly to add a bit of sexual excitement to their headlines."
His inappropriate use of language - defending his policy on reducing rape sentences by using a sex metaphor - has more to do with Clarke's generational gap with today than any malice.
He is widely regarded as a 'decent chap' at Westminster, but poor old Ken - 71 in July - looked confused, tired, and hopelessly out of touch with the modern world after blundering over victims' feelings on the subject of rape to the point where there are now calls for his resignation.
Clarke was trying to defend his policy and technically he may have been correct. But by differentiating in his interviews between "serious violent rape" and other forms of rape, including intercourse between a 17-year-old and a boy or girl of 14, he infuriated and upset rape victims and women's groups who were appalled both by his argument and his use of language.
His Stone Age remark on Sky was immediately exploited in the Commons by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, at Prime Minister's Questions as a convenient weapon with which to to thrash the coalition. Miliband called on David Cameron to sack his justice secretary.
Cameron then accused Miliband of "jumping on the wagon", but the truth is having Ken blundering over rape cases was the last thing the PM needed today.
The coalition was already reeling from the overnight reports that Liam Fox had fired off another (leaked) letter to Cameron opposing him over a law committing Britain to higher spending on overseas aid, while deputy PM Nick Clegg had shown off his abs in a display of "muscular liberalism" at a private meeting of Lib Dem MPs by saying he would oppose the government's scheme for injecting private competition into the NHS.
Significantly, Cameron did not choose to defend Clarke. He said the proposal was out for consultation and had not been decided.
Clarke actually watched the session of PMQs in the BBC's Daily Politics studio with Andrew Neil and BBC political editor Nick Robinson, who said afterwards that Clarke was "completely unapologetic" about his use of language.
Clarke insists that his policy will save rape victims the trauma of going through giving evidence in court, if their attackers plead guilty at an early stage.
Ken might have meant well, but that generation gap - like his waistline - is probably growing too wide for him to go on.
Cameron is almost certain to urge him to apologise. But he is no longer the Tory "big hitter" Labour once feared, and it might be kindest to put him out to grass in the next cabinet reshuffle. ·
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