Prime Minister David Cameron removed U.K. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke from his post today, appointing him as a Cabinet minister without portfolio.
Clarke, 72, a former chancellor of the exchequer, has been handed a brief including aspects of the economy and a role on the ministerial team led by Cameron that discusses national security, he told reporters outside his home in London today. Clarke has been a minister in every Conservative government since 1972.
“At my age you do occasionally have to step down from a heavy departmental role before you suddenly realise you can’t handle it,” Clarke said. He said he is “pleasantly surprised” to still be in the government.
Clarke, a lawmaker since 1970 who counts beer, jazz, cricket and soccer among his interests, has held five Cabinet positions. A lawyer by training, he served as chancellor of the exchequer from 1993 to 1997 before John Major’s Conservative government was defeated in a landslide Labour victory under Tony Blair.
Though Clarke stood for leader of the Tory party three times, his pro-European liberal views failed to appeal to traditional Conservatives. He came fourth in the election that made Cameron Tory leader in 2005.
“Cameron had to give Clarke something significant as a compensation for the big job at justice otherwise he would be a loose cannon,” Bill Jones, professor of politics at Liverpool Hope University, said in a telephone interview. “But this is really a coalition appointment. Clarke is seen as an honorary Lib Dem and this will be to satisfy them.”
Working in the coalition formed after Cameron failed to deliver a Conservative majority in 2010 brought out Clarke’s “inner liberal,” he said. He revamped criminal sentencing policy, arguing there were too many prisoners and reoffending rates were too high. That earned him the enmity of The Sun tabloid newspaper, which campaigned against his “soft justice.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg joked last year that “we only have five Cabinet ministers, or six if you count Ken Clarke.”
Clarke faced calls for his resignation in May 2011 when, proposing a 50 percent reduction in sentences for serious crimes in return for an early guilty plea, he appeared to suggest that some instances of rape could be less serious than others.
A month later, he was forced to deny giving permission for a prisoner to father a baby from behind bars under human-rights legislation, after a front-page story in the Daily Mail newspaper. The story said that Clarke approved the inmate’s request to have the child with his partner by artificial insemination because of the prisoner’s “right to family life.”
That followed a series of gaffes by a junior justice minister, Crispin Blunt. In July 2010, Blunt suggested prisoners should be able to hold parties in jail. Two months later, he warned of “fruit riots” if prisoners were served with undersized or misshapen apples.
In October last year, Clarke got into a spat with Home Secretary Theresa May, calling parts of her speech to the Conservatives’ annual conference as “laughable and child- like.”
In an attack on human-rights legislation, May said that courts had allowed an illegal immigrant to stay in the country because he had a cat. Clarke and the judiciary immediately responded that the story was untrue. Later he made a partial climbdown, saying he regretted his “colorful language.”
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