That interview with Kenneth Clarke, QC, was not so much a disaster for his political career as yet another knockout blow to the possibility of hearing honest answers from leading politicians. Who now will be prepared to go ‘live’ on radio to talk about sensitive policies?
I didn’t catch the conversation in real time, when the Justice Minister’s comments on rape and how it should be punished might have sounded much more appallingly insensitive (most of the reports of what he actually said have been wildly inaccurate). Listening to it later, after the furore had erupted, the person who came across as most rude, thoughtless and arrogant was his interlocutor on the Radio 5 Live phone-in programme, Victoria Derbyshire. ‘Can you react to that, Mr Clarke,’ she demanded, after ‘Leeroy in Walsall’ had told us that he was never again going to vote Tory because of what Clarke had just said. ‘React to that, Mr Clarke,’ Derbyshire butted in, as if desperate to turn her programme into headline news.
What surprised me most about the interview was Clarke’s choice of words, so sloppy and imprecise for a lawyer. It was as if he was talking at home while washing up the dishes, rather than on air, on the BBC. Was he taking his audience seriously? But at least he did sound as if he was saying what he thought, rather than repeating the diktats of a carefully-constructed-to-be-meaningless government directive. When ‘Lesley in Hertfordshire’ asked him whether he had ever been a victim of crime, he bumbled along for a bit before admitting that, yes, he had, but not for about ten years, when a thief picked his pocket in Portugal. That’s what exposed Clarke as being out of touch. He doesn’t live, has never lived, with the daily threat, or consequences, of crime.