Why is David Cameron so threatened by Ken Clarke?

It’s still hard for some of us not to think of Ken Clarke as the ‘leader that never was.’ And David Cameron knows it.

David Cameron is angry. Or so James Forsythe, writing in the Daily Mail, would have us believe. Ken Clarke wants to trust the intelligence of qualified, independent judges to decide on an appropriate sentence for a murderer. David Cameron thinks government, with all its quirks and inconsistencies, should continue to dictate minimum sentences. Ken Clarke wants to consider whether locking up as many people as we do is sensible and cost effective. David Cameron is credited with coining the phrase ‘prison works’ when he worked for Michael Howard. (Although he’s also credited with saying he wanted to hug a hoodie, which of course he never did.) Ken Clarke understands, as is the case with guns in America, that the myriad of reasons why people carry knives is a complex one. David Cameron wants them all to be instantly criminalised. In other words, Ken Clarke is a libertarian who trusts people and recognises that we are all individuals. David Cameron is not, and he doesn’t.

Ken Clarke, an original thinker and seasoned politician, and David Cameron, a politely confident PR man with an eye for a headline and a talented media relations team behind him, are both archetypal Conservatives, in their way, yet they each represent opposing ideas about what it means to be on the political right. The divide in conservative politics between the Clarkes and the Camerons isn’t between liberal and authoritarian, or left and right, so much as it is between those who geninely want more people to become wealthy, and those who don’t.

Tories like Ken Clarke, John Redwood, Margaret Thatcher and Michael Portillo believe in wealth creation. They want to liberate the markets and help the economy to boom, because they genuinely believe in the trickle down effect. Some of them take a tough love approach to the more disadvantaged groups in society, with a belief that it’s possible for everyone to ‘help themselves’, and some of them take a more nuanced approach to policy-making, but they all genuinely want the poor to get richer, and they all genuinely believe that wealth is something that you can create.

But a surprising number of Tories agree with the Marxist world view: they think wealth is a finite resource. They think the more the rich have, the less the poor have (or rather, the more the poor have, the less the rich will have), and they aren’t as interested in wealth creation as they are in the pure manipulation of capital. Cameron may well be one of those Tories – the kind who inherited their wealth, wouldn’t know how to create it if they’d ever had to, and are scared of those who do.

Ken Clarke’s approach to law and order is the only approach consistent with the Conservative party’s campaign message: that they will bring about a less authoritarian, more libertarian society, with a “common sense” approach to law enforcement. How can the anti-Clarke bandwagon of papers forget, when talking about incarceration and its alternatives, that Labour introduced 3,000 new laws, 1,000 of which carried a jail sentence? How can they forget how many of these laws they complained about at the time? How can they forget all their howls for judges’ hands not to be tied, for them to be allowed to practice “common sense”? (“Common sense” obviously meaning nothing more than that you agree with the person who defines “common sense” at any given time.) There are people in prison now for breaking laws that the Daily Mail believes shouldn’t have been passed in the first place, yet they don’t think these people should be allowed out.

David Cameron, if he was a strong leader, would have the courage to point this out. Why doesn’t he?

Ken Clarke is the leader that never was. He was rejected by the Tory party, largely for his views on Europe, but also because of his unpopularity during the Thatcher years. David Cameron may not be a heavyweight thinker, but he does understand PR, and he must he know he was chosen by his party as leader not because of his talents or brains, but because he looked young, because he wasn’t directly associated with Thatcher in people’s minds, and because he had positioned himself as the detoxification candidate.

Only he failed to secure a majority for his party, and senior figures like Norman Tebbit – not to mention those same right-wing newspapers that he’s pandering to on crime – lay that blame squarely at his door. People rejected Labour, but they did not buy into Cameron’s hallow rhetoric. He was too much like Tony Blair, only without the evidence of a sharp mind at work under the spin.

Clarke, on the other hand, is clever, charismatic, experienced, fairly popular with the public nowadays, despite being seen a bit of a maverick by the Conservative party, er, mavericks, and with his pro-Europe, tolerant, humane policies, would have been a much better detoxification candidate for leader than Cameron.

Cameron is scared of Clarke for the same reason he’s scared of Paul Dacre. He’s not a natural born leader. If he were, there would be no question of Clarke losing his job in a reshuffle, just for doing the job he’s paid to do.

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2 thoughts on “Why is David Cameron so threatened by Ken Clarke?

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  1. I’m afraid I disagree. Clarke, a man whom I like and with whom I often agree, is there for the first half of this Parliament to make Cameron look right-wing as a sop to the Daily Mail Thatcherites in his party. He can then look tough when he sacks him, pleasing the Daily Mail. That he’ll be pilloried in The Guardian doesn’t matter as who reads The Guardian and votes Tory?

    Attacks from the Left / liberal wing of the Coalition just make Cameron look stronger to his constituency. It’s attacks from the Right that he fears and wants to keep as quiet as possible. It’s the “Me or Osborne” question coming soon from Nick Clegg that keeps him awake at night.

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