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18 May 2011

PMQs review: Miliband doesn’t miss an open goal

Ken Clarke’s comments on rape made this the easiest of wins for the Labour leader.

By George Eaton

Ken Clarke’s car-crash appearance on Radio 5 this morning provided Ed Miliband with an open goal at today’s PMQs. And he didn’t miss.

The Labour leader began by asking David Cameron whether he agreed with Clarke’s bizarre distinction between date rape and “proper” rape (reminiscent of the good Aids/bad Aids scene in Brass Eye). A poorly prepared Cameron could only reply that he hadn’t heard the interview and, in an attempt to change the subject, that the priority was to raise rape conviction levels.

Miliband replied by calling for Clarke’s head (“the Justice Secretary should not be in his post at the end of today”) and demanded that plans to extend the plea bargaining system be dropped. Cameron’s limp response that that the government was merely “consulting” on whether to extend it, allowed Miliband to observe: “When there’s a terrible policy, the Prime Minister hides behind the consultation.”

A rattled Cameron regained some ground by accusing Miliband of “jumping on the bandwagon” and reminding the House that the Labour leader once promised not to accuse Clarke of being “soft on crime”. But the damage had been done. The PM will be furious with his Justice Secretary for allowing him to be so comprehensively humiliated.

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For now, Downing Street is insisting that Clarke will remain in his post. But the Tories’ reputation as the party of law and order has been dealt another blow.

The irony is that Clarke is one of the few cabinet ministers that Labour MPs admire and even support. Were he to go, it could signal the end of a more liberal approach to crime. But, scenting blood, Miliband went on the attack today. And he is likely to emerge as the winner from this affair.