Politics has only an erratic relationship with fairness. That is fortunate for Ken Clarke. If he had been treated fairly, he would have been sacked. Even if Theresa May had been talking nonsense, it would be wholly unacceptale to describe a Cabinet colleague as "laughable" or "childlike". In a well-run government, such problems are sorted out in private. But the Home Secretary was not talking nonsense. The cat did encourage a Judge to decree that an illegal immigrant with a convicton for shop-lifting should be allowed to stay in this country.
Ken's behaviour was disgraceful. So why did he survive? There are a couple of related reasons. First, he is widely popular. With the passage of time, he has become a monstre sacre. Ken will be Ken: everyone laughs at his peccadilloes, although there is often a wry note. "Ken uses a broad brush" said one Downing Street adviser. "Trouble is, everyone else gets spattered with paint". Second, it is assumed that Ken is too bluff, hearty and honest to bother with the niceties or to conceal his feelings. On that point, however, the truth is more complex. The bluff heartiness is often an excuse for intellectual idleness. Ken cannot be bothered to master the detail, so he just biffs his way through, chuckling as he goes.
The honesty is equally problematic. No question: Ken Clarke is a decent bloke with no great taste for guile – except on the most important question of all: European federalism. Throughout his political career, he has been fixated on that great goal: his desire to deliver Britain bound and chained into political serfdom in a united Europe. That also helps to explain his lack of interest in political detail. He looks forward to the day when the details of British politics no longer matter because the big decisions will be taken elsewhere.
That will never happen, for which we must be thankful to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. 1997 was the hour of maximum danger. The Tory party had been shattered. Mr Blair was master of the battlefield; William Hague was making no impression. Worse still, two of the few Tory politicians who did resonate with the public were ready to collaborate with Tony Blair in a referendum on the Euro. Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine would have been formidable and might have crippled the Tories' efforts. They were virtually offering Mr Blair a deal: you go for the Euro and we will wreck the Tory party. Only gradually did the Tory fifth column realise that Tony Blair was only interested in keeping their side of the bargain.
If Mr Blair had possessed one-tenth of Margaret Thatcher's political courage, that was the moment to strike. Fortunately, he failed the test. There was also his difficulty with Gordon Brown. But it is surely a dreadful admission of guilt for any Tory to have to make: that we should all be grateful to Gordon Brown for saving us from Ken Clarke.
For forty years, the Tory party harboured vipers in its bosom: men who had come into public life to undermine their country; who flew the Union flag for public consumption, but whose covert soul owed its allegiance to the twelve stars. Most of those saboteurs are now in the Lords, which limits their opportunities for national betrayal. Ken is the sole survivor in the Lower House, and insults to Cabinet colleagues are a lesser crime than conspiracy to destroy the Pound. But he still has nuisance value, on a crucial matter.
The Euro was easily the worst political misjudgment since 1945. It has landed much of Europe in a crisis. Hundreds of millions of people are stuck with a currency which is not right for them. As a result, unemployment rates are much higher than they ought to be and growth rates significantly lower. Living standards are suffering. There is an obvious danger of social and political unrest, in countries with no deep roots in political stability. We in Britain are avoiding the worst of the mess, no thanks to Ken Clarke. He is like a chemist who was filling the aspirin bottles with arsenic, and the extraordinary thing is – he is still at it.
One might have thought that a poltician so blood-boltered in calamity might feel, first, that he was lucky to remain in office – and second, that a smidgeon of humility was called for. After all, if you were in favour of the Euro, why should anyone ever trust your judgment again, on anything?
None of that troubles our ineffable Ken. He failed to deprive his country of its currency, so what does he do? Moves on to its laws and liberties. If he is not allowed to wreck the pound, he will merely turn his fire on criminal justice and immigration. The European Court of Human Rights has been designed to become the Supreme Court of a united Europe. Fo centuries, we in Britain have lived under the rule of law. In England, this was strengthened by one of the greatest expressions of English genius, the Common Law. Under it, judges could reason from old principles to new circumstances, without challenging the supremacy of Parliament. There was a constant and creative dialectic between judge-made law and statute law.
Now, instead of that marvelously rich legal heritage, we are offered European law. It is a swindle, and Ken is one of the most shameless of the swindlers. We can only wonder why he hates his country so much. What is it about British history that convinces him of our inability to govern ourselves?
Ken has evaded his just deserts, at least this time. The same may be true, pro tem, of Chris Huhne. But his weaselly tretment of a Cabinet colleague helps to explain his political standing. Although he is a clever fellow, hardly anybody in politics likes him or trusts him.
Whatever Mr Huhne's fate, there will be no escape for Liam Fox. Nor should there be. It is sad, because he is a man of many qualities. But even before the latest embarrassment, he was failing to grip his department. He could neither think through defence policy nor get on with the generals, some of whom thought that he had a social chip. If so, that would indeed be childlike and laughable. Those who make the charge are men I respect, who do not talk in haste or in malice.
So Dr Fox was not doing his job properly. Now, he cannot do it properly. The fighting forces in the field are entitled to have confidence in their Secretary of State. He has forfeited any title to confidence. He must go.