Minister Without Portfolio Kenneth Clarke. Photo: Wikimedia
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Ken Clarke’s spectacularly unhelpful interview

The Minister Without Portfolio took a swipe at the Prime Minister.

Tory grandee Ken Clarke turned up on the BBC’s World at One at lunchtime to have a concerted dig at David Cameron.

He pronounced it "unwise" for the Prime Minister to have made a statement yesterday apologising for hiring Andy Coulson, after the former aide was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones when he was editor of the News of the World.

Clarke asserted: “It’s clear that nobody took legal advice,” adding "I doubt whether it ever crossed David's mind" to seek legal counsel. In fact, Cameron had consulted the Attorney General, gaining the best legal advice in the nation.

Upon being told this, Clarke simply muttered "I seem to be agreeing with the judge", alluding to the criticism heaped on Cameron by the judge in the phone hacking trial in court yesterday.

Mr Justice Saunders questioned the Prime Minister for making a "full and frank" apology while the jury was still deliberating on two further charges on Coulson. He said:
 

I asked for an explanation from the Prime Minister as to why he had issued his statement while the jury were still considering verdicts" the judge, John Saunders, said in court.

"My sole concern is to ensure that justice is done. Politicians have other imperatives and I understand that. Whether the political imperative was such that statements could not await all the verdicts, I leave to others to judge."

If Clarke’s comments on the hacking verdict were not barbed enough, he then proceeded to take a swipe at Cameron for his tough stance against Jean-Claude Juncker, the leading candidate for the European Commission presidency.

Clarke said:

I’m one of the few people that has met Jean-Claude Juncker. Nobody knows exactly what he is supposed to have done wrong. The idea he’s an arch-federalist is slightly exaggerated. He’s not an arch-villain.”

Speculation is rife in Westminster that Clarke knows his head will roll in the imminent reshuffle. The Minister Without Portfolio came under fire from Labour earlier this year when it emerged that he had cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds despite not attending to any specific brief in government.

It emerged that the 73-year-old, who has spent 24 years in ministerial office in total, still had his own spin doctor, up to three officials working for him and went on nine foreign trips in less than a year.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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