Sky News defends broadcast of candid conversation between Ken Clarke and Sir Malcolm Rifkind on Tory leadership race

Mr Clarke was shown calling Theresa May a ‘difficult woman’ and dismissing the idea of Boris Johnson as PM ‘ridiculous’

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The Independent Online

Sky News has defended its controversial decision to broadcast off-air remarks made by Ken Clarke on Conservative leadership candidates.

He and Sir Malcolm Rifkind were wearing live microphones when they started a conversation on prospective Prime Ministers in Sky’s Westminster studios.

Calling the crisis engulfing the Tory party after the EU referendum an “utter fiasco”, Mr Clarke made a series of scathing assessments of colleagues including Michael Gove.

Viewers were divided over Sky’s decision to broadcast the footage without the politician’s knowledge, with some praising the decision and others claiming it was a violation of ethics.

There was no immediate response from Mr Clarke but Sir Malcolm told The Independent he was “hugely amused”.

“It all adds in some human happiness and I’m delighted to have made my own personal contribution,” he added, laughing.

“I watched it obviously…you can hardly make out what I’m saying unless you read the transcript. Of course the camera was on Ken, not me.”

Asked about his comments on Mr Gove, he replied: “I made some words to that effect. I’m not sure I can embellish it. What I said speaks for itself and it’s probably shared by a far greater proportion of mankind.

“It’s good entertaining stuff.

“People may say it’s a bit naughty of them [Sky News] but I think under the circumstances it is the world we live in – I make no complaint at all.”

Journalist Hugo Rifkind, Sir Malcolm’s son, reacted on Twitter by posting: “hahahahahahaha.” 

Saying the membership would not support Mr Gove, Mr Clarke quipped: “I think with Michael as Prime Minister we’d go to war with at least three countries at once.”

Sir Malcolm was similarly disparaging, adding: “As long as Gove doesn't come in the final two I don't mind what happens.”

But Mr Clarke said the former Education Secretary did the country a “favour by getting rid of Boris”, calling the idea of Mr Johnson becoming Prime Minister “ridiculous”. 

Mr Clarke went on to describe frontrunner Theresa May as a “bloody difficult woman” who “doesn't know much about foreign affairs” and said he knew little about Stephen Crabb’s policies.

He also said prominent Leave campaigner Andrea Leadsom was “not a lunatic” but claimed she said “extremely stupid things” during the EU referendum campaign and did not genuinely want a Brexit.

Liam Fox is also among the candidates campaigning to follow David Cameron after the Prime Minister announced his resignation following last month’s shock vote for Britain to leave the EU.

Ms May, the Home Secretary, is currently considered the favourite in the leadership race despite her support for the Remain campaign.

A spokesperson for Sky News said: “Ken Clarke had just finished a live TV interview and was still sitting in front of a live camera and microphone when he discussed the Conservative Party leadership contest with Sir Malcolm Rifkind. 

“Their conversation revealed important insights about those vying not just to be Conservative Party leader, but also Prime Minister. We believe that there is a strong public interest in their views being known.”

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