Simon Carr: The Sketch

A quiet pint in the Snug, then hot tears of anger
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The Independent Online

You're nursing a quiet pint in the snug when suddenly the door of the gents is kicked off its hinges. A vast, angry man pulls himself into the bar by his own shirt tails; he crashes into the furniture, punching himself repeatedly in the face; with a howl of pain and rage he tries to kick his own backside but misses and falls to the ground, still fighting himself furiously and throwing up. You don't often see the Home Secretary like this so it's worth the price of a pint.

You're nursing a quiet pint in the snug when suddenly the door of the gents is kicked off its hinges. A vast, angry man pulls himself into the bar by his own shirt tails; he crashes into the furniture, punching himself repeatedly in the face; with a howl of pain and rage he tries to kick his own backside but misses and falls to the ground, still fighting himself furiously and throwing up. You don't often see the Home Secretary like this so it's worth the price of a pint.

You want a more literal account. Charles Clarke had sat through, and contributed quietly to, the torpor of Home Office questions. He got up for the Queen's Speech and put on his very loud voice to launch an extraordinary attack on the Conservatives in general and nice David Davis in particular.

"One of the most unpleasant elections campaigns I can remember!" he bellowed. Why? It had been dishonest, it had been dishonourable, it had been calculated to demoralise communities with its scaremongering and its appeal to the dark side (this was where he tried to kick his rear end and fell vomiting to the floor, if memory serves).

David Davis handled it rather well. A great pity, for those of us who admire Mr Davis and wish him well.

Was it guilt that was firing up Mr Clarke? Maybe. But let's leave aside the Government's own corrupt statistics, dishonest claims and dishonourable slanders. Let us even discount the Sunday paper claim that Mr Clarke last week told six lies in 100 seconds (the evidence looked pretty good to me).

This is a government that has dealt with asylum and immigration by abolishing habeas corpus and trial by jury and by bringing in legislation so alien to this country that we didn't even permit it during the Second World War. The Home Secretary's outburst thus provided Mr Davis with the opportunity of a lifetime and he succeeded only in handling it rather well. Ken Clarke would have handled it very well. He would have played with the Home Secretary's absurdities ex tempore for 10 minutes, pulling tropes out of his trilby to amaze and delight his audience.

The benches full of new MPs must have found Mr Clarke rather good. Ably, he referred to the Prime Minister's contention last year that there were "hundreds" of known terrorists in Britain. It was why control orders were so urgently needed. And once the legislation had been passed, Mr Davis asked, how many had been so controlled? Apart from those released from Belmarsh: none. Not one.

It's a powerful point. So powerful, in fact, it should have made us weep hot tears of anger, shame and pain. But - correct me if I'm wrong - we only felt indignation. Because Mr Davis only handled it rather well. If he wins the leadership no doubt he'll handle that rather well, too. It won't really be enough.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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