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20 May 2011

Miliband’s U-turn on Clarke

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

By Duncan Robinson

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.

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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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