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Clarke's law: when under siege, blame the "right-wing press"

by Paul Goodman

A significant proportion of Conservative MPs believe that ECHR judgements should sometimes be ignored (and some of them think that Britain should quit the convention altogether.)  A smaller proportion believe that ECHR judgements should always be implemented.

Screen shot 2011-02-20 at 14.35.21 There's never been a moment's doubt where Ken Clarke stands.  Subject to reshuffle rumours in the Mail on Sunday first thing this morning (the paper wants him replaced by Michael Howard), he slipped on to Marr a bit later to make his case.

The Justice Secretary said that court decisions on votes for prisoners "to be fair, are rather confusing", and added that there is a "good case" for reforming the court.  Britain takes the chair of the Council of Europe in November, he indicated, and could lead a campaign for change then.

That sounded rather as though he was kicking for the long grass.  Clarke also explained that the commission to examine a British Bill of Rights will be established "in the next week or two", while trying to laugh off his previous dismissal of the idea as "xenophobic".

But he did add rather pointedly, on the question of whether such a bill would have a status superior to the convention, that "no-one's quite sure what the answer is", and compared himself to a lawyer giving a client advice that he doesn't want to take.

In short, the Justice Secretary was conceding relatively minor details while conveying the substance of his position - namely, that "there is no chance of this Government pulling out of the convention", while simultaneously downplaying the recent Commons vote on votes for prisoners.

His view, he stressed, is "based on the collective view of the Government..."When I was appointed it was decided to have a moderate justice sec, no-one thought that I was a hanger and flogger".  It sounded to me as though he was using the fact of coalition to prop up his position a bit.

As Paul Waugh's just reminded his readers, Clarke has a distinctive habit of referring to "the right wing press".  I counted one use of the phrase this morning, and once - by way of variety - "the tabloid right-wing press".

The press were also blamed for "suddenly discovering an old judgement" about sex offenders, and the last votes for prisoners case was "confused by the newspapers.  His appointment, he said, "was never going to please the Mail on Sunday".

He's detached and committed, all at the same time.  Committed to staying in government on his terms for as long as he can.  And detached from the bulk of his party, which he seems to look on with a distant gaze, like a man peering down at landscape from a hot-air balloon.


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