What exactly is Cameron’s conservatism advocating? A continuation of new Labour? A bridge to Thatcherism? Or a new progressive way, one often calls ‘Cameronism’? The Conservative Party, like most UK political parties today, can be regarded as a ‘broad church’. Kenneth Clarke, the current Justice Secretary, can be described as from the left of the party, a ‘One Nation’ Tory and he has certainly made his mark on his department.
Within a year of being in government, Clarke proposed a radical plan to slash jail terms by 50% for those criminals prepared to plead guilty. In response, Clarke received an alarming amount of criticism towards his policies largely from Conservative backbenchers, being dubbed a ‘soft-conservative’. Opposition within the cabinet was apparent when police minister Nick Herbert claimed such a policy would see an increase of 10,000 prosecutions a year. Interestingly, Cameron, with the advice of top lawyers, recalled Clarke to ‘rethink’ his ‘soft’ proposals.
Interestingly, Ken Clarke has recently proposed governmental cuts to legal aid, thus seemingly supporting a Thatcherite take on crime and punishment. Although, Clarke has argued that it is necessary to implement such in order to reduce government spending as it will save between £350m and £450m a year.
Maybe Clarke’s aims are as a result of the economic crisis? Less prison time does mean less money spent and therefore it could be the increasing pressure to cut the deficit, that is forcing his hand to make such proposals.
In sprite of this all, we must remember that Clarke is what we call a ‘wet’ or ‘social’ conservative and therefore his views stand as a contrast to Thatcherite ones as he aims to focus on the ’causes of crimes’ as opposed to the punitive measure, as seen in his rehabilitation scheme ambitions. This in turn can be used as an example to show differences in the Conservative party thinking.
Additionally, he stands as a further contrast to Major’s Home Secretary, Michael Howard, who was all for ‘prison works’ and as a result, we can safely say that rather than Clarke being shifty, moving from faction to faction, he is merely being pressured by the more traditionalist or Thatcherite members of the conservative party to impose policies such as cuts to legal aid, as the ‘wet’ conservatives are in a minority. This is especially evident in the wide opposition to his proposals for a 50% sentence cut to those pleading guilty
What we can take from Clarke’s time as Justice Secretary is the following: