Ken Clarke – the Cabinet's answer to Macavity

They seek him here, they seek him there, and when they finally find Ken Clarke, he shuts his eyes. Where is the Justice Secretary when you need him?

While David Cameron and Theresa May have made much political capital from the London riots, Ken has been noticeable by his absence. Odd, given that he is in charge of the department responsible for the courts and prisons, struggling to cope in the aftermath.

Not since Gordon Brown was PM has a minister prompted so many comparisons to Macavity, T S Eliot's mystery cat. Yet in the past, Ken always cut more of a doggy figure, an overenthusiastic Labrador happy to cock his leg on the finer nuances of the Tory spin machine and not to be trusted off the lead. In a game of word association, Ken Clarke leads to Hush Puppies, his trademark suede shoes.

But now he is a Hush Puppy. We heard barely a squeak from Ken's office during the week of riots, which, given Ken's previous, is probably the way the PM wanted it. Emails to Ken's inbox prompted an automated response, saying it was closed until 5 September. Then, when Parliament was recalled, his shambling figure in a pale grey suit did appear on the front benches. But as our picture reveals, Ken promptly felt the need to rest his eyes and concentrate very deeply.

To be fair, he has been busy with engagements elsewhere – watching England play India at Trent Bridge. But aides are keen to insist Ken remains on duty all summer. Yet Eliot's words have never rung truer: "He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair: For when they reach the scene of crime – Kenneth Clarke's not there!"

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