Ken Clarke plays to the Tory right -- but they're not convinced yet

Justice Secretary stresses "toughness" as he announces that all prisoners will work a 40 hour week.

Ken Clarke sought to pacify his critics within the Conservative Party with a bullish speech to the conference, couched in harsh rhetoric about crime.

The Justice Secretary drew ire from the right of the party in the summer, when he suggested increased use of community sentences to reduce the number of people being sent to jail on short sentences.

"Don't worry," he told a packed conference hall today. "I have not become some woolly-minded idealist since I was last a reforming minister. I am under no illusions about the British criminal class."

The one-time chancellor stressed his right-wing credentials, proudly declaring that "I am a deficit hawk", and setting up this and his prison reforms -- criticised for being too liberal -- as part of the same reformist project.

While he lambasted Labour for talking tough but failing to reduce the number of criminals that reoffend, Clarke indulged in some tough talk of his own. For serious criminals, "prison is the only punishment that the public expects and accepts". He stressed the rights and feelings of the victims of reoffenders, rather than the so-called "criminal class" condemned to poverty and cycles of deprivation.

The key word here was "toughness". This was an obvious attempt to circumvent the charge that is on the wrong side of the law and order debate for a Conservative: community sentences must be "tougher", revalued in the model of France or Germany. Prisons, too, must be "tougher places of hard work." It's the same idea that we heard in June -- indeed, the campaign against short sentences is supported by Ed Miliband -- but with a shift in language, it's dressed up as something more palatable to the Tory grassroots.

Yet the crowd was unsure. The central policy announcement was that prisoners should be made to work a 40 hour week in prison to tackle idleness and prepare them for the world outside. This should play well to the Tory right, but there was only tentative applause, or even silence, when Clarke strayed too far from the "toughness" message.

His suggestion that prisoners be paid the national minimum wage for this work in prison is unlikely to garner much support from those within the party who already see his proposals as too lenient, though he claimed that this money would go towards restitution for victims.

The Justice Secretary went some way towards getting his party on side today, but still has some convincing to do.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad