…of shoes…of cabbages and kings…

22 05 2011

“The time has come,” the walrus said

To talk of many things:

Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax –

Of cabbages – and kings…

(Lewis Carroll – ‘Through the Looking Glass’)

 …Of Shoes:

Shoes of the week belong to Ken Clarke; jazz buff, real ale enthusiast, life long Nottingham Forest fan, oh and yes – Justice Secretary!

Ken put his beloved ‘Hush Puppies’ well and truly in it, during a ‘5 Live’ radio debate on the Victoria Derbyshire show, where he was drawn into suggesting some types of rape are more serious than others!

Some might suggest not very clever of the Cabinet’s most experienced minister, and judging by the immediate knee jerk reaction from the media and opposition leader Ed Miliband, at Prime Minister’s Questions, Ken’s days in the Ministry of Justice might have seemed numbered.

But he has seen it all before. It is not his first nor, I suspect, will it be his last gaffe. However he is a master of political contrition; clearly demonstrated as ‘luck’ would have it in the BBC’s ‘Question Time’, that same evening.

After a polished late-night TV performance,  speculation about his position quickly evaporated along with any misplaced suggestions that his, seemingly misogynist, comment was an indication that he did not take rape seriously.

Clearly this was never the case and, and with the brief furore subsided, focus can now return to the 50% discount proposals, for those that plead guilty at the sentencing stage.

Ken’s, liberal, ‘prison isn’t working’ stance has divided opinion across the political spectrum, alienating as many traditional Tory supporters as those on the opposition benches, who have a vested interest in dismissing his plea-bargaining  policy, as merely a cost cutting exercise.

But for many of the public, on both sides of the political divide, and I include myself amongst these, Ken is very much the acceptable face of Conservatism. He has successfully cultivated an appealingly  hang-dog (it must be those ‘Hush Puppies’), laid-back but trustworthy image while remaining a political loose-cannon, every bit as likely to blow up in the faces of his own side as the enemy.

The wave of publicity generated last week, be it be by accident or design (and I suspect some of the latter) has successfully raised the profile and hopefully the level of debate around a package of reforms aimed at reducing an unsustainably high prison population.

The Justice Minister has injected a much-needed urgency into addressing the longstanding but complex issues surrounding appropriate levels of sentencing and establishing a balance between the punitive element of imprisonment, with rehabilitation programmes that can realistically target a reduction in the high level of re-offenders.

He should be applauded for his efforts. Cameron knows he will jettison Ken at his peril and Ed Miliband should treat a political adversary of Clarkes’ calibre with greater respect.

After all you’ve just got to love a cabinet minister  who turns off his mobile when it’s time to tune in to a favourite jazz programme (allegedly), and he’s a fellowo long-suffering supporter of the ‘Tricky Trees’!        

 Of Cabbages

Cabbages of the week are undoubtedly ‘Cleggy’ and ‘Geeky’. 

‘Geeky’ Miliband was guilty of the most puerile political opportunism, trying to cash in on Ken Clarke’s BBC ‘bloomer’ (above). But as events unfolded, and with significant public and media opinion swinging behind Ken, it soon became clear that ‘Geeky’ had only succeeded in scoring yet another own goal.

I admit to backing Ed for the Labour leadership race but I got it wrong. Watching David ‘Gawky’ Miliband being interviewed from Islamabad, on this morning’s Andrew Marr Show (my favourite current affairs programme by a country mile – Sundays aren’t the same without it) he was sure-footed, exhibiting an incisiveness and eloquence so often missing from his sibling’s parliamentary  performances. It should have been Tweedle-dee and not Tweedle-dum!

If ‘Geeky’ is struggling, ‘Cleggy’ is the proverbial ‘dead man walking’ (as is his cabinet colleague Chris Huhne – a prime candidate for ‘cabbage’ of next week, re speeding points allegedly taken on his behalf by his estranged wife – hell as no fury like a woman scorned and all that!)

There is no doubt that the ‘No’ vote in the AV referendum was significantly inflated by the anti- Clegg feeling amongst the electorate. The hammering the Lib Dems took in the local elections only served to emphasise the point.              

In a desperate bid to salvage his party’s identity, and keep his own political career alive, ‘Cleggy’ is belatedly flexing his muscles and stamping his feet about the coalition’s proposed NHS reforms while at the same time headlining plans to reform the House of Lords, by  reducing the membership to 300, 80% of whom could be elected through a proportional representation system.

In my opinion reform of the Lords is long overdue, but now is not the right time – all energies should be focussed on reviving the economy. The unveiling, by ‘Cleggy’, of the Lords overhaul was, not surprisingly, panned on all sides of the Commons.

To add insult to injury, the Deputy PM’s request for a 1:1 meeting with Barack Obama, during his high-profile visit to London during the coming week, has been ‘snubbed’ by Washington.

There’s nothing like kicking a man when he’s down!

and Kings:…    

Well, King George V’s granddaughter actually! The last state visit to Ireland, by a reigning monarch, was by the present Queen’s grandfather, in 1911. Last week’s landmark four-day mission by the Queen, in her 85th year, designed to build bridges and draw a line under the acrimonious relationships of the past, is being heralded in most quarters – either side of the Irish Sea, as an unmitigated success.

It must have been hugely challenging emotionally and a physically draining experience for someone of her years, knowing that every move, every nuance, was being so closely scrutinised. Of course, it was all extremely well- choreographed, from the laying of a wreath at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance to the Croke Park stadium tour, but throughout, the Queen’s sincerity and dignity were plain to see.

She was ably assisted by the Irish President, Mary McAleese, who also cut a very impressive figure. Interestingly it has taken two ladies, seemingly perfectly at ease in each other’s company, to ensure that this week’s events set Irish eyes smiling and ushered in a new chapter of Anglo-Irish relations.

There were, of course, still those such as Gerry Adams and others of the Sinn Fein party, who considered the visit premature and insensitive but the dissenting voices of the few were drowned out by the public acclaim of the vast majority, who recognised the significance of what had taken place.       

Well done Ma’am, but next time do try a drop of the ‘black stuff’!   

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