David Cameron is fond of saying that u-turns are not a problem, they are actually a sign of strength and a government that listens to voters and is willing to change its mind.
He may be right: voters stuck with him through a spate of u-turns early in the government’s life – on selling off national forests, on GP commissioning, on sentencing. But today we have three in one day – will this now start to look like a government that doesn’t know what it’s doing?
The key may lie in the way in which the u-turn is handled. When he announced he was abandoning plans to offer 50 per cent discounts on sentences for offenders who offer guilty pleas, Ken Clarke united the House in laughter by telling MPs:
I have done a few u-turns in my time, and they should be done with purpose and panache when you have to do them.
This is exactly the way Clarke has gone about his u-turn today on secret courts. Read more
The justice secretary is at it again. As if he hadn’t done enough to upset his cabinet colleagues by calling into question the cat anecdote Theresa May used to attack the Human Rights Act, he’snow condemned her even more explicitly in an interview with the Nottingham Evening Post.
According to PA, Clarke told the paper:
It’s not only the judges that all get furious when the home secretary makes a parody of a court judgment, our commission who are helping us form our view on this are not going to be entertained by laughable child-like examples being given.
We have a policy and in my old-fashioned way when you serve in a government you express a collective policy of the government, you don’t go round telling everyone your personal opinion is different.
Headlines about the government performing a U-turn on reduced sentences for offenders who plead guilty early risk distracting attention from the hole in the budget that has just been created by the move. It is a policy that throws up more questions than it answers, some of which are:
1) Where will the extra £130m come from? Government sources suggest it will be from probation and courts services. But where, and what effect will this have? Clarke was pretty vague in the Commons:
The savings are not coming from any particular area. We are achieving more efficiency. Half is coming from administrative costs. If there are any new policies I will come forward with them.
If half are coming through administrative costs, where is the other half coming from? Read more
Over at the Guardian, Nick Watt has pulled together a terrific summary of the lifelong rivalry between Ken Clarke and Michael Howard. It began 50 years ago with a row over Oswald Mosley and it’s still going strong today over prisons policy.
Clarke and Howard are, of course, members of the so-called Cambridge Mafia that graduated from 1960s student politicking to rule the roost in Whitehall as cabinet ministers.
It is a famous tale. But there is a coalition twist to the Cambridge Mafia story that is less well known.
One of the Cambridge Union presidents around this time was a young liberal activist from York called Vince Cable.
Now that the coalition is formed, Cable has surely earned his place as a “made man”. He really deserves to join the list of Cambridge Mafioso, which includes Clarke, Howard, Norman Lamont, Norman Fowler, John Gummer and Leon Brittan. (Some of them are pictured here at Clarke’s wedding.)
That said, while they mixed in the same circles, Vince was never terribly keen on joining the gang. He remarked that Clarke was “not particularly exciting back then – not the real personality he later became”. And this is what he thought of the Tory “conveyor belt”. Read more
Clearly the Conservatives felt the need for a new, more positive policy and have come up with the old Tory favourite: a tax cut. George Osborne has just spelled out a pledge to partially reverse a 1 per cent rise in national insurance due to take place in one year’s time. It is likely to be welcomed by some business groups. Read more