6 Oct 2011

Catgate – last flick of the tail?

The significance of Ken Clarke’s remarks to the Nottingham Evening Post is the date.

In a quote left out of the newspaper but on the reporter’s blog it is clear that Mr Clarke’s description of the cat example in Theresa May’s speech being “laughable” and “child-like” was made on Wednesday, not on Tuesday when his “Victor Meldrew” and “I’ll bet” the home secretary is talking tosh remarks were made.

In the reporter’s blog – Lobbydog – you can see Mr Clarke refers back to Tuesday night’s fund-raising dinner and how he and the home secretary shared a room but he didn’t think it was the right moment to go up and talk to her and explain “it wasn’t my fault.”

No. 10 could tolerate the spat between the two senior ministers (just) if it was over and finished. If Mr Clarke can’t shut up about it their patience may snap. They won’t want to sack a minister over a semi-comic row but they need vacancies for a reshuffle expected next year and the Justice Ministry might well be one that you could put money on.

As for Mr Clarke, friends say he seemed saddened by the whole experience of Theresa May’s speech and the aftermath. He didn’t like the way No. 10 weighed in behind Mrs May, who was clearly wrong in law (the Lord Chief Justice’s office weighed in behind Mr Clarke) … but not, David Cameron decided, in politics.

Ed Llewellyn at No. 10 would be the point man I would expect to try to make contact with Mr Clarke now but he knows as well as anyone that Mr Clarke’s mobile is never on. In fact, Mr Clarke doesn’t know exactly how to turn it on. One message from Ed Lewellyn this week sat two days on Mr Clarke’s phone without any response.

I haven’t yet found out whether Mr Clarke’s latest sally at the home secretary was delivered before or after David Cameron’s speech. Ken Clarke managed a strained and brief smile when David Cameron suggested he read “Crime and Punishment” twice. If it’s any comfort to Mr Clarke, I hear that joke was in earlier drafts of Mr Cameron’s speech three weeks ago, well before Catgate. But maybe that’s no comfort at all.

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