Clarke’s performance has highlighted Tory disarray

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CLIVE SMITH: I thought they’d finally got the date right and we’d reached Armageddon

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Kenneth Clarke’s bumbling, mumbling, stumbling shambles of a performance during what has become known as the ‘rape controversy’ has highlighted the Tory disarray over law and order.

In election after election, polls make it clear that crime and punishment feature high on the list of people’s greatest concerns. In election after election, every party vows to get to grips with the growing problem.

And in election after election voters are left frustrated by the weakness, complacency and apparent indifference routinely displayed by the government of the day.

In fact, they grow increasingly angry as they watch ministers go soft on punishment and shamelessly manipulate statistics in a futile attempt to persuade us we are living in a more law-abiding country.

So law-abiding, in fact, inmates have to be released early from over-crowded prisons to make room for the next batch of ne’er-do-wells.

Everyone knows the police are hamstrung by the iniquities of the Human Rights Act, which seems to have been drafted specifically to protect the interests of the feckless and those suffused with criminal intent.

The Conservatives have always claimed to be the party of law and order – but it is a boast which has begun to sound ever more vapid. They now appear to have fallen for the trendy twaddle that prison does not work because so many culprits re-offend.

I remain convinced the real reason for recidivism is because the regime is so lax and the punishment so mild that it holds no fears for yobs, let alone hardened criminals.

The first Conservative government to grasp this fact and have the courage to free the police from the shackles of political correctness, build more jails and make the punishments fit the crimes will be more than halfway towards winning the next election. In the meantime, justice is placed in the hands of people like Kenneth Clarke.

Any man who seriously believes some forms of rape are less serious than others – and then takes 24 hours to reluctantly accept his stupidity and apologise for it – has no business being within a country mile of the judicial system.