UK

Question time for Ken Clarke

  • 19 May 2011
  • From the section UK
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Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke was applauded by the Question Time audience at Wormwood Scrubs

Ken Clarke will be breathing a sigh of relief tonight.

Visiting Wormwood Scrubs prison to appear on BBC1's Question Time the day after the furore about his comments about rape could have been a disaster for him. It was the reverse.*

The justice secretary was applauded not booed as he walked on stage for the recording of tonight's programme. The first person on the panel to speak was Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti who could scarcely have been more sympathetic. Even Labour's Jack Straw was reluctant to say that Clarke should lose his job - when he was asked whether he agreed with Ed Miliband, he simply said: "My leader is always right".

When Ken Clarke himself spoke, his contrition - delivered rather more convincingly than yesterday - was heard in silence. What was most striking, though, was the fact that the biggest early round of applause came when a member of the audience attacked Ed Miliband for personalising the issue and called for Clarke to be backed.

Now you may be forgiven for thinking that this was because of the make-up of the audience. Only 10 out of around 120 were prisoners and another 10 were prison staff. The rest were members of the public who applied to attend before knowing that the recording would be in a prison. As ever, people apply to attend and the audience is then chosen to be broadly politically representative. Of course, just because this crowd appeared to like him doesn't mean everyone does.

Clarke's proposal to halve the sentences of criminals who plead guilty early, ie long before they reach court, received a tougher hearing and was criticised as a cost-saving measure, but tonight the man himself will feel that a significant part of the public are on his side.

* I watched the recording prior to its transmission.