Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Clarke Fiasco

Now that the "Willie Horton" moment has arrived it cannot be long before Charles Clarke resigns. The Guardian reports that at least five of the released foreign prisoners committed further offences including crimes of violence, and it seems there may even have been a rape. John Humphreys said on Radio 4 this morning that "more serious culpability is harder to imagine" and that if Clarke doesn't resign over this then it is not easy to imagine any circumstances whatever in which a Minister would have to resign. It is true that Clarke inherited this mess from Blunkett, but he has known about it since last July and has not sorted it out. Clarke is not being asked to accept responibility for the failings of civil servants about which he knew nothing (On Tuesday the Guardian reported that Downing Street in support of Clarke had stated that Ministers could not be expected "to know what is going on in every nook and cranny of their department". The clear inference is that Clarke did not know what was going on, which is untrue). The whole saga shows how little the doctrine of "individual ministerial responsibility" matters to politicians. It is not constitutional niceties but raw politics which determine whether a Minister resigns; and most will cling to office until driven from it (The resignation of Peter Carrington in 1982 was very unusual in this respect. But even this was politically calculated: his resignation took the heat off the government). The signs are that Clarke will in typical fashion try to bluster his way through this, and the uber-Blairites do not want to lose another Cabinet ally. Clarke will probably wait to see what the Sunday papers say (apparently the Times and the Mirror are taking the line that he should not resign); but even so it hard to see how he can survive.


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