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Ken Clarke's unfortunate remarks on punishing rape gift Miliband victory at PMQs

By Tim Montgomerie

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The Justice Secretary watches today's PMQs in a BBC studio.

Cameron had a few good moments at PMQs today. He blasted Dennis Skinner for living in "Dinosaur Land" and was able to quote today's encouraging employment news. He was able to talk about the Coalition's very popular benefits cap after a question from Anna Soubry (who, incidentally, put in an excellent performance on last week's BBC1 Question Time). And, thirdly, he embarassed the Labour benches by noting that a health expert who recommended NHS privatisation advised the last Labour government, not this Coalition (watch a video of the clip).

But PMQs won't be remembered for those things. It will be remembered for Ed Miliband asking tough questions about Ken Clarke's very unfortunate remarks on Five Live about rape victims and proposed more lenient punishment of rapists. David Cameron was able to buy some time by saying he hadn't heard the Justice Secretary's interview with Victoria Derbyshire but he'll have to comment later. The Labour leader was able to portray the Coalition as soft on one of the most horrible of crimes. Miliband added to a sense that a government that is cutting police numbers and cutting prison numbers is betraying the public's expectations of what a Conservative government should do.

At the weekend Lord Ashcroft's mega poll showed that the biggest gap between the public and the Coalition is on the issue of crime. The gap got bigger today and it's vital that Cameron acts to bring his Justice Secretary under control or, better still, moves him on. Paul Goodman has already suggested that Mr Clarke becomes Leader of the Commons.

It's not just Dennis Skinner that's a dinosaur. On the European project, the human rights act and on crime Clarke also appears to live in an age that's passed. It's an untenable situation for a Justice Secretary to be on the wrong side of both the right-wing press and women's groups.

Miliband won his second PMQs in two weeks. His focus, last week, on health was the second issue highlighted by the Ashcroft polling as something that should worry Cameron. Being trusted on the NHS is central to the Cameron project. Downing Street will have hated overnight remarks from Clegg in which the Deputy PM doubted the PM's commitment to the health service. Yes, the Tories had good election results two weeks ago but we are seeing a few signs of life from the Labour leader.


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