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The tuition fees story is hiding Ken Clarke's war with the right-wing press

Tim Montgomerie

Yesterday I reported the beginning of The Sun's campaign against Ken Clarke's prisons policy.

The newspaper reports today that David Cameron has ordered a partial u-turn from the Justice Secretary:

"Justice Secretary Ken Clarke was forced into a humiliating U-turn yesterday - after David Cameron overruled his potty plan to scrap minimum sentences for murderers. Mr Clarke provoked uproar on Tuesday when he revealed his "criminals' charter" to water down sentencing rules. It meant doing away with Ben's Law - the mandatory 25-year jail terms for knife murders. It only came in last year and was named after the brother of ex-EastEnders actress Brooke Kinsella, who was stabbed to death. Downing Street acted swiftly after The Sun revealed the fury of murder victims' relatives.

The PM's spokeswoman declared: "Ben's law will NOT be scrapped. The Prime Minister feels very strongly on this. Twenty-five-year mandatory prison sentences for knife murderers will remain." And a No 10 source insisted: "The PM will not let anyone go to jail for less time than the law already allows. "We will retain every minimum tariff for murder - whether it's 25 years for knife murderers, 30 years for the murder of a police officer, or the whole of their life for the abduction and murder of a child." But campaigners said last night that other Tory election promises are still broken. Pledges to jail all knife offenders and increase jail places are among them.""

The Sun goes on to describe furious behind-the-scene rows between 10 Downing Street, Home Office ministers and Ken Clarke.

Right But this is a battle that's only just beginning and it's not primarily within government. On one side is Ken Clarke and on the other side are Britain's four centre right newspapers. All these newspapers oppose the Coalition's prisons policy (even as amended). The Sun, Mail and Express, in particular, will continue to hound the government until it is further amended. They will highlight serious crimes committed by people they think would have been behind bars if Clarke hadn't cut prison numbers. Clarke will now dig the heels of his hush puppies into the ground and won't be moved much further by an angry Number Ten. Clarke has little to lose. He no longer has ambition for high office. He'd prefer to retire from being Justice Secretary than to be forced into more u-turns.

Graphic collates headlines from yesterday's Telegraph, Mail, Express and Sun.


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