Question time for Ken Clarke

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.

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 675.

    wormholes everywhere

  • rate this

    Comment number 674.

    @671 Unfortunately there are those in the system who can never be released not ever but for the remainder of life sentence prisoners there has to be "life at the end of the tunnel" and this is why you are correct in what you say regarding rehabilitation and of course control and discipline in the prisons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    Interesting arguments from both sides, but all now purely acedemic. The DP has been removed from the statute book never to return, and in a civilised society that would be the correct decision. Was it a deterrent? an unequivocal yes. Was there ever a miscarriage of justice? almost certainly yes although I can only ever recall one and that is the case of Timothy Evans, but even one is too many.

  • rate this

    Comment number 672.

    #671 pd65

    See your point, but I have trouble in equating 15 years or so in jail with the taking of a person's life. I in no way advocate the death penalty but I suggest that there has to be some sort of commensurate sentence for ending life.

    If this means that murderers spend the rest of their lives in jail, so be it. Restitution needs to be made on behalf of the victim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 671.

    I'd pity the prison officers in charge of prisoners who had no hope of parole and therefore nothing to gain or lose however they behaved. Surely the hope of reformation and reintegration is crucial for morale all round.


Comments 5 of 675



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