Clarke is an example to other Tories

The U-turn on secret courts shows that the Justice Secretary understands coalition government.

One is the Septuagenarian, jazz-loving secretary of state for Chillaxation. The other is the Home Secretary, whom people used to call a safe pair of hands (they’ve stopped that now). Who is the more effective minister?

Easy. It’s Ken Clarke. Because he gets coalition government.

Contrast the progress on the two parts of the Queen's Speech that had "Tory policy" written all over them – the snoopers' charter and the plan for so-called "secret courts".

Now the former has a mountain of civil liberties issues attached – but was handled by everyone’s favourite liberal Tory, Clarke. While many on the Tory right like to portray him as a bumbling, out-of-touch loose cannon (can’t think why), isn’t it interesting how he’s engaged with the issues, heard the arguments, listened to the reservations raised by Nick Clegg in his letter to other members of the cabinet. And now he’s produced proposals that meet the concerns expressed, including notably that judges (not ministers) will decide when the new powers can be used and that they will not apply to inquests.

It’s not perfect – even Clarke himself says so. But it’s a hell of a lot better than it was. And the perfect example of how Lib Dems in government can make bad policy better.

Contrast that to the snooping bill. Looked after by Theresa May, there appears to be no such accommodation made. Instead we’ve had the usual cry of "you just don’t understand’. And as a result, the bill is in abeyance, moved from full to draft status in the Queen's Speech. To my knowledge, those draft proposals still have not been circulated to members of the Home Affairs Select Committee for review (I’m told this document that circulated after the Queen's Speech is nothing like the draft). Lib Dems, led by the redoubtable Julian Huppert, are up for a fight and there’s a steadfast determination to ensure nothing passes that increases the powers of RIPA.

The snoopers' charter is going to suffer the death by a thousand amendments.  And May is going to run very fast to go backwards.

Its funny. The Tory right are still convinced that they won the last election, that they should be free to invoke all the legislation they want. They’re wrong. If they want to make progress, they need to work with us, not fight us, and expect their legislation to be made more liberal, not less. I don’t expect the Lib Dems to get much credit for it from New Statesman readers. But I promise you – without us acting as a Tory brake, things would be a hell of a lot worse.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.