Simon Carr: Surreality TV as Ken finds a captive audience in prison

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The Independent Online

And from Wormwood Scrubs, sometime home of Keith Richards, Horatio Bottomley, Pete Doherty and Lord Alfred Douglas, Question Time.

This week's detainees were Ken Clarke, Shami from Liberty, Jack Straw and a ghostly-looking creature called Melanie Phillips.

Quite a Tory-leaning audience but they liked Ken Clarke even so. They certainly didn't like Jack Straw, a representative of the hated Blair and Brown governments – he got knocked about for leaving the country broke. It wasn't entirely his fault, but no one said life was fair.

Surprisingly, the biggest applause of the first half was an ex-probation officer characterising Ed Miliband's call for Ken's resignation as "the worst kind of politics". They're full of surprises, the public, as Ed is finding out.

Ken explained his position and what he had been trying to say. It's complicated. And the way he put it made it more so. Having had time to consider the form of words that would placate his critics he said his mistake had been to "allow himself to get bogged down in a silly dispute". He has the touch, hasn't he?

"What are you apologising for?" Dimbleby asked. "What shouldn't you have said?" Clarke said he should have used Shami's language but he can't have meant that. She had begun from the position that "all rapes are horrific". No one heckled, "except the ones that aren't" – but I couldn't hear what was said to your television. There are rapes that are purely technical, as Ken Clarke had said, but in Shami's world "some horrors are even more horrific".

The woman known as Melanie flogged the audience for applause and after an exhausting flagellation managed a claptrap. But her conclusion – "Through his provocative behaviour he deserves everything he gets" – seemed more like a moment of self-awareness.

They were a tricky audience to read, one well-spoken prisoner poked Straw for Labour's record on rehabilitation, and another veteran of violence wanted more money for prisoners and more for the warders "because they look after us".

What no one liked was cutting sentences to save money. That may be worth remembering.

He won't take advice but Ken Clarke could have stopped the whole carnival by using the famous political apology developed by Stephen Byers. "If anyone was offended by what I said, that is something of course that I regret." It's not even "saying sorry". He doesn't even have to mean it! Maybe he's enjoying the attention.