Thursday News Review

The Tory mask slips…

The suggestion by his junior minister, Crispin Blunt, that rapists could have their jail sentences cut by half in return for a guilty plea, had triggered furious accusations of “soft justice”. But if the situation was bad before Mr Clarke decided to take to the airwaves to defuse the row, it was considerably worse soon afterwards as he managed, during the course of a radio interview, to suggest that some types of rape were less serious than others. The remarks triggered a “car crash” of a day, during which the Justice Secretary conducted a further two rounds of broadcast interviews in an attempt to ‘qualify’ his remarks yet succeeded only in muddying the waters even further. – Daily Telegraph

The Justice Secretary suggested in a radio interview that teenage and date rape were not “proper” offences. When he was told that “rape is rape”, he then replied: “No it’s not”. Mr Clarke, who was confronted in the street in Westminster yesterday afternoon by campaigners, then refused to apologise and said he was “astonished” by the reaction. Labour leader Ed Miliband led calls for Mr Clarke to be sacked, saying he “cannot speak for the women of this country when he makes comments like that”. He told David Cameron: “Let me say very clearly – the Justice Secretary should not be in his post at the end of today.” Mr Clarke wants to halve jail sentences for offenders who plead guilty – and in the Commons on Monday he revealed this could also apply to rapists. But during a Radio 5 Live radio interview yesterday, an attempted rape victim warned him of the dangers of an early release for sex offenders. The caller, Gabrielle, told Mr Clarke she was attacked by a man who had been released early on licence despite being convicted of six previous sex attacks. Breaking down in tears, she told Mr Clarke his plans were a “disaster”. – Daily Mirror
Mr Clarke sparked an outcry while defending controversial Government proposals to halve the sentences of some rapists if they made early guilty pleas. He angrily rejected reports sex attackers could face just 15 months behind bars as a result, insisting “classic” rapes involving violence and unwilling women resulted in longer sentences. Mr Clarke insisted less clear-cut “date rapes” and consensual sex between teens, one of whom was under age, skewed average sentencing figures. Rape victim support groups in Merseyside stopped short of calling for Mr Clarke to lose his job, saying the debate should be kept to sentencing. Jo Wood, from Merseyside’s Rape And Sexual Abuse Centre (RASA), said: “He has gone off policy and started coming out with personal opinion, because nobody in their right mind is going to have a policy statement that there are different types of rape. – Liverpool Daily Post

Ed’s first goal

Mr Miliband might have chosen to urge, more in sorrow than in anger, that Mr Clarke be told to correct any misleading impression of being lenient on rape. The Labour leader instead tried to get Mr Clarke sacked: “The Justice Secretary should not be in his post at the end of the day.” The merciless instincts of a Brownite attack dog had driven out any idea Mr Miliband might have had of presenting himself as a liberal-minded person who recognised Mr Clarke as a kindred spirit. Mr Miliband has recently displayed the same intolerance towards Nick Clegg, with whom he refused to share a platform during the AV referendum campaign. One also detected a hint of ruthlessness in Mr Miliband’s conduct during the Labour leadership campaign, when he carved up the liberal-minded front runner, who happened to be his own brother. – Daily Telegraph

It was a day for dinosaurs. Sir Peter Tapsell reared up among cheers to suggest the PM order an investigation into the death of David Kelly. Dennis Skinner gave a fabulous display of primordial rage (it’s his birthday today: he is 65 million years old). And Ken Clarke got into trouble for his Jurassic views on sex crime. He had said some rapes were worse than others and Ed Miliband demanded he resign. Your sketch writer found himself a bit Triassic on the subject. Isn’t statutory rape (a 17-year-old having consensual sex with his girlfriend just shy of her 16th birthday) less serious than… let’s not imagine the details. Cameron made this defence a bit – but it didn’t quite command the House. Taken with the Coalition proposal to give rape defendants anonymity this was dangerous ground for a Tory. Ed Miliband’s case was a modern one: rape is one single category of offence. That’s the progressive view. Fair enough, that’s probably what Independent readers think too. But wasn’t that the Ed of two weeks ago? Hasn’t he assigned dinosaur status to his “progressive majority”? The modern thing, the mutation of the moment is Blue Labour, isn’t it? That’s the idea that England is more and more like the Daily Mail describes it. You have to wonder whether Ed Miliband is the person – or “guy”, as he calls it – to pitch working-class conservatism. He is after all a hereditary aristocrat of the political class. – the Independent

A demand too far

Nick Clegg has put another obstacle in the path of the Government’s  controversial health reforms. The Liberal Democrat leader announced that he will oppose the establishment of a regulator to promote competition in the NHS – a key plank of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans. But the intervention incensed Tories who yesterday questioned why the Lib Dems were happy to vote for the plans in the Commons, but are now against them following their  disastrous showing in the local elections. Two weeks ago the Deputy Prime Minister promised a more ‘muscular liberalism’ – with the Lib Dems not going along with so many Conservative policies. He has already demanded Mr Lansley change his plans so that hospital doctors and nurses become members of the new GP commissioning boards which will run most of the NHS budget under the reforms. – Daily Mail

People can’t trust Nick Clegg to protect the NHS. After the Lib Dems’ local elections disaster, his concern is to save his party, not safeguard our NHS. As students faced with £9,000 tuition fees know, you can’t take the deputy prime minister at his word. Clegg has backed David Cameron’s NHS plans every step of the way for 12 months. They made and broke together the coalition agreementpromise “to stop top-down reorganisations” and they co-signed the foreword to the NHS white paper in July. Clegg signed off the NHS bill in cabinet in December. He took to the airwaves in January to defend the plans. His MPs have backed the bill in parliament at every stage so far, and in the committee it was his Lib Dem health minister who led rejection of Labour’s amendments to make the changes Clegg now claims he wants. The deputy prime minister has come so late to concern about the legislation, that if the bill were any shorter it might have been on the statute book by now. His Mr Muscle act is born of desperation after the Lib Dem electoral meltdown on 5 May. – John Healey, the Guardian

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One Response to “Thursday News Review”

  1. iain ker says:

    ‘The suggestion by his junior minister, Crispin Blunt, that rapists could have their jail sentences cut by half in return for a guilty plea’


    I think the suggestion was that all criminals could have their sentences cut, not just rapists.

    This is compared with the Labour policy that all criminals (including of course rapists) got sentences cut by one third in return for a guilty plea.

    Is this – I hesitate to dignify it by the use of the word ‘attack’ – really the best you can do.

    It’s oblivion you’re sleepwalking towards, not irrelevance. You’ve already reached ‘irrelevance’.

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