Oops! They did it again!
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.
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.