Follow the money

Kenneth Clarke Ed Miliband called for Mr Clarke to quit following his remarks about rape in a radio interview

Up until now George Osborne has been able to boast that he has not given extra money to any government department since the spending round.

Up until now.

He is about to face a demand from the Ministry of Justice to help fill a £130m hole in its budget thanks to the decision to shelve Ken Clarke's controversial plan to halve the sentences of those who plead guilty early, saving victims the trauma of a trial and the court system cash.

The idea was barely noticed when it was included in last October's Treasury Spending Review which required the MoJ to find savings of £2bn from a budget of £8.7bn.

It only became controversial after an outraged Daily Mail front page and a BBC Radio 5 Live phone-in in which Ken Clarke was accused of insulting rape victims.

There is one irony in all this. Gabrielle Brown, the victim of the attempted rape who clashed with Mr Clarke on that phone in, said she accepted his proposals after meeting with him and having them explained.

She said: "I accept his argument now that he's been clearer in his definition of when the 50% reduction would apply.

"So if, let's say in my case, the offender had been arrested and charged and had pleaded guilty, I wouldn't have gone on to suffer the trauma I suffered."

This may prove to be the first of a long line of political concessions with economic consequences.

Although £130m is not a lot of money if the Treasury stumps up even a portion of it, expect other departments to come knocking and demanding that the chancellor use his newly declared flexibility to help them.

If he refuses they will, no doubt, tell him that he may get more Daily Mail front pages, more backbencher rumblings and more political pain.

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

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