Miliband’s U-turn on Clarke

The Labour leader has distanced himself from his call for the Justice Secretary to be sacked.

Ed Miliband has distanced himself from his call for Kenneth Clarke to be sacked over his comments on rape. Writing in the Independent, the leader of the opposition argues:

The slide from grace of Ken Clarke has caused some glum faces amongst those who believe in a better penal. People who share my belief in prison reform as part of a policy to cut crime are worried as they see him being edged towards the cabinet room exit door.

They are wrong.

The necessary reforms to our justice system will never be carried out successfully by a government, and by those like Ken Clarke and David Cameron, who are so woefully out of touch with the real world.

The tone of the piece is curious. It gives the impression that Miliband no longer thinks Clarke should be sacked. The column is a defence of Miliband's comments, rather than a reiteration of them. Miliband had 600 words to call for Clarke's sacking and failed to do so.

This is a U-turn, particularly when compared to what Miliband said in the Commons on Wednesday. Here's Hansard:

When the Prime Minister leaves the Chamber, he should go and look at the comments of the Justice Secretary – and let me just say to him very clearly: the Justice Secretary should not be in his post at the end of today. That is the first thing the Prime Minister should do. The second thing he should do is to drop this policy, because this policy, which they are defending, is the idea that if you plead guilty to rape you get your sentence halved. [Emphasis added]

Miliband was emphatic in the Commons. Yet two days later – and with Clarke looking safe in his position – the Labour leader has changed his tune. As I pointed out yesterday, Miliband cannot call for the heads of ministers willy-nilly without beginning to look like the boy who cried "wolf". No wonder he's trying to distance himself from the comment.

Calling for Clarke to go was bad politics because it was a call that was likely to go unheeded, particularly when Labour and the Conservatives have broadly similar policies with regard to sentencing in general. But rather than attempt to build a case for progressive and effective penal policy in the UK, Miliband took the opportunity to attack from the right – something he said he would not do.

Speaking at the Labour party conference in October, Miliband declared: "When Ken Clarke says we need to look at short sentences in prison because of high reoffending rates, I'm not going to say he's soft on crime." It looks like things have changed.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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