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Oops! They did it again!

May 19, 2011

Let me start by saying that I have a lot of time for Ken Clarke. Primarily, because I have always appreciated the way he has stood up for the European Union. He is one of the few people on the Conservative party benches that seems to genuinely look at the price we pay in the context of the prize we gain: the longest period of peacetime in European history.

Let me also say that I dislike people being censored in the name of political correctness. I would sooner see what is in the minds of the folks governing this country,  than have the same centrally issued soundbite repeated twenty times.

But ultimately, words are words. What matters is unpacking the meaning and intention behind them. Incorrect words can be used innocently, and innocent words may be used with malice. I had lived in this country for at least a year before I started to detect the nasty, imperialistic hue of being described as “very exotic-looking”.

I am not excusing Ken Clarke for his incredibly idiotic comments on rape. But I am saying that they are as much a product of his ministerial environment as his mouth. His comments should be scrutinised because they are the symptom of a much more serious disease than a lack of political correctness. He did not “misspeak”. He revealed his gross misconception that rape is a sexual misbehaviour, with occasional violence “on the side”. He continued to do so on Sky News, hours after his Radio 4 interview, by referring to “classic rape” and “proper rape”. He continued to do so by suggesting that the media had focussed on this issue, in order to spice up the news, as if the general public might get a little sexual frisson at the mention of rape.

It may be a sad sign of the times, however, that I was not surprised by these comments. They are the latest in a series of bungles. Have a look at the cabinet:

I wrote recently that while the individual privileged background of a politician may not be a legitimate target for criticism, the startlingly narrow demographic composition of the cabinet is. The Huffington Post commented, quite rightly, “No Blacks, Jews or Gays Need Apply”. This is a cabinet that includes 23 millionaires among 30 senior posts. In the same 30 senior posts, it includes four women, one of them unelected and the only member of an ethnic minority. The expanded cabinet of junior ministers includes twelve women out of 96 posts. The only known gay member of the cabinet committed fraud to try and hide his sexuality and resigned after a week.

Clarke’s comments are merely a manifestation of the fact that this government’s policies are conceived in the vacuum of a public boy, members-only club. They come from the same stable that saw David Willets claim that feminism is the single biggest factor for the lack of social mobility in Britain. They come from the same logic that saw Vince Cable make it more difficult to work flexibly. They are not-so-distant cousins of the Prime Minister patronising a politician of 20 years’ experience with “calm down dear” and being surprised people didn’t find it funny.

Whether in economic or foreign policy, justice or constitutional matters, the moral compass of this cabinet is about 100 years out of whack (I am being charitable). This is why half-baked policies are issued one after the other, leaving ministers flailing to defend them; coalition partners contradicting one another; changing policies on the hoof; telling us that “any willing provider” does not mean “any willing provider” and “misspeaking” themselves. Until finally the policy is disavowed by Cameron and the cabinet member in question hung out to dry.

This is the real problem and the issue we should actively be challenging. Policies are issued forth like belches, because there is no internal critical process in this cabinet. They are all, largely, of one mind. And that mind is of a rich, middle-aged, white man.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Clear Voice permalink
    May 19, 2011 12:53 pm

    Oh so very well said! Speaking as a woman (for I am), I feel totally disenfranchised by this lot – they simply don’t care about other perspectives.

    Incidently I have written to my local (Tory) MP four times recently on a range of issues (NHS/forestry sale/lack of regulation of legal lenders etc,) and the first replies insisted I was “MRS”, despite my clear description of myself as Ms. Which bits did he actually read I wonder?

  2. alex hitches permalink
    May 19, 2011 2:37 pm

    If anyone bothered to listen to the whole interview on that radio station then they would wouldn’t be lambasting Mr Clarke for his comments. The media like to sell papers with sound bites and people bite.

    An MP puts out a thought provoking idea on policy and the whole world goes crazy and misinterprets what was said. What’s the point of thinking up policy when the media and certain organizations cannot be reasoned with.

    The fact is rape is not merely a matter of just rape. There are many many factors that affect the severity of the crime. Clarke is trying to do victims a favor and increase the success rate of convictions of rapists without putting them through quite a long ordeal of a fully fledged court case. A lot of cases involve incidences where victims haven’t come forward soon enough to collect forensic evidence. In these cases Mr Clarke’s policy may help if there is a lack of evidence or the strength of evidence is weak.

    “asked why rape sentences
    were on average only five years”

    A man who hit a man in a pub and that man died, got 18 months. A man who drove dangerously and killed another person got 14 months. And the questioner is confused as to why rapists get 5 years? The law is messed up. Apparently a death of a person means less in terms of the law than sexual assault.

    • May 19, 2011 4:45 pm

      I heard the entire interview and both his follow-ups for the BBC and Sky News.

      It is bizarre to think I am passing judgement on the sentencing for manslaughter by analysing KC’s comments on rape. It is wrong of a politician to make comments which patently might upset people who have already been through an ordeal by somehow trivialising their experience.

      If you were talking to a friend of yours who was dealing with a traumatic experience – for example, a parent with cancer – you would never say “that’s not proper cancer, I lost my dad to much worse cancer”. And if you did, you would be seen as being grossly insensitive. Why should we have lower standards for an educated, intelligent SoS speaking on the radio?

    • May 19, 2011 6:41 pm

      I did listen to the interview and I will continue to lambast Ken Clarke for his comments.

      My complaint is not with his attitudes towards sentencing but his attitudes towards rape. His is a harmful view that rape “in the conversational sense” is the violent stranger and an unwilling woman. In perpetuating that myth he ignores the truth – that rape is not necessarily violent and the majority of rapists are known to their victim. In addition, as the Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Chancellor and a QC, going to an interview on rape sentencing, he should have been aware of a) the difference between statutory rape and unlawful sexual intercourse, and b) what date rape actually is. His job is the law and yet he does not know it.

      Lastly, if his intention was to do rape survivors a favour then he didn’t pursue a sensible course. He admitted to not consulting survivor support groups for their input on the paper. Had he done so, he would realise that in actuality, some women want to go through the trial and have their day in court, as a cathartic exercise to gain closure.

      Ken Clarke was ineloquent, ill-prepared and all together far too casual on a matter of huge importance. This is not fitting behaviour of a member of the Cabinet and certainly not one with Clarke’s level of experience. This is why I believe he should offer a full apology, preferably in the form of some large cheques to local rape crisis centres.

  3. June 24, 2011 6:51 am

    For sale? Try a 30 year lease instead. Alternatively default, and prepare to create your own goods. Greece has everything it needs internally.

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