Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, Eh Ken?

20/05/2011 11:43 | Updated 22 May 2015

Well, better late than never I suppose. And better uttered huffily than not at all. Ken Clarke said last night on Question Time: "I obviously upset a lot of people by what I said and I'm sorry if I did, by the way I put it."

It was hardly a full apology though and he quickly poo-pooed the comments he had made on BBC Radio Five Live on Wednesday, saying he merely "got bogged down in a silly exchange."

I think if there is one thing this whole debacle has highlighted, it's that the majority of the country is getting really sick and tired of our government ministers revealing themselves to be pompous, arrogant buffoons. Am I wrong?

I can confidently say everyone is now aware of Mr Clarke's proposals to increase the 'discount' in sentences from 35 per cent to 50 per cent for those criminals – including rapists – who plead guilty early. Mr Clarke argues the aim, particularly in the case of rape, is to increase convictions while saving victims the trauma of reliving their attack. Many others believe the idea, particularly in the case of rape, is misguided to say the least.

Wherever you stand on it though, it has been terribly hard not be riled at Clarke's recent behaviour which, let's face it, has somewhat overshadowed the actual issue, perhaps even shelved it.

Really, what would it have cost the man to immediately and sincerely apologise to females across the country who were aghast at hearing him refer several times to "proper" and "serious rape"? However much he tries to paper over it, he did at the time seem to suggest, where rape is concerned, there are varying degrees of seriousness.

Of course he doesn't actually believe that to be the case – I think (and this is the buffoon bit) in that interview he was remarkably ineloquent for someone in a position of such authority.

And that is what he should have immediately apologised for. He should have held his hands up on Wednesday and apologised, with humility (rather than retorting with such hideous pompousness), for his absolute inability to communicate effectively; for his repeatedly getting muddled at the interviewer's questions; and for using the term 'date rape' completely out of context. I really think the Justice Minister should know the difference between consensual sex between an underage girl and her 18-year-old boyfriend (more likely to be referred to as unlawful sexual intercourse), and non-consensual sex between a woman and someone known to her.

Instead what he said, when grilled outside his home, was this: "If I caused GENUINE offence" (that was his emphasis) "to anybody by explaining that long-standing factual situation, then I must have made a very poor choice of words, so I will try to choose my words more carefully in the future."

And there was the arrogance, teamed with a snidey insinuation that no-one could possibly have been genuinely offended.

However many cock-ups he made on BBC Five Live (including this, which I felt went a bit under the radar: "It's early pleas of guilty where we are saying 50 per cent saves trauma, saves greater distress, saves wasting the time of the witnesses, saves..." (wait for it), "MORE IMPORTANTLY police time.") Mr Clarke evidently found it excruciatingly painful to admit he was wrong on any level.

That he did eventually (sort of, and with the air of someone who was just bored with people telling him off and wanted to make it all go away) might offer him a reprieve from the media hounds. I wonder if perhaps he won't need to choose his words more carefully in the future – perhaps David Cameron will just gag him.


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