Coffee House

Clarke goes OTT

30 May 2012

Today’s award for hyperbole goes to Ken Clarke. He has just told the Leveson inquiry that, ‘The power of the press is far greater than the power of parliament.’ Given that parliament can still make the law of the land, this is a rather absurd statement. (Though, I do regret that parliament has given away so many powers to Brussels and the courts. But I doubt that was what Clarke meant.)
Clarke’s statement seems to stem from a belief that MPs buckle under pressure from the press, that they’d all be a lot more liberal if it wasn’t for those pesky tabloids. I just don’t think this is true. To take one example, I suspect that most MPs oppose prisoner voting not because the papers tell them to but because they don’t think it is right on principle.

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  • Dennis Churchill

    Simon Stephenson.
    May 31st, 2012 11:23am
    Yes Mr. & Ms Average, but then Equal Outcomes is the performance indicator for equal opportunities so regression to the mean seems the objective.
    The tabloids reflect the much more influential broadcasters rather than lead them.”Reality” TV, soap operas all feed into our homes in a way that tabloids can’t. The Dumbing Down and coarsening of our culture is driven by the likes of Jonathon Ross and Big Brother not by journalists working for the Red Tops.
    To rub salts into the wounds we are forced, on threat of imprisonment, to fund the BBC which is why it differs from commercial broadcasters.

  • Mr Oulton

    To all of those downplaying the influence of conservative-leaning newspapers. Have you not been watching Leveson??

    It’s exhausting listening to the paranoid conspiracies Tory followers always trot out, you know the one about the liberal-BBC-smash-Israel-complex agenda.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Dennis Churchill : 10.49am

    I agree that the broad cultural conditioning is far more important a problem than is the narrower, overtly political, aspect of this. But you appear to claim that it is only the BBC that has had influence in the area of broad conditioning. I’d argue that tabloidism has been at least as influential, by self-servingly creating in its readerships the impression not just that mono-focus, straightforwardness and simplisticism is an “OK” outlook for people to hold, but also that it is an outlook which is functionally superior to the more intricate and complex outlooks with which modern societies have been built.

    To be Mr Average is no longer just acceptable, it’s been built up into what everyone ought to be striving to be – as though the path to happiness and prosperity lies in a complete lack of understanding that different people can have different motivations and different priorities, and that successful societies must be able to work out how to reconcile these differences.

  • Dennis Churchill

    May 30th, 2012 11:03pm
    Simon Stephenson.
    May 31st, 2012 8:28am
    My views on the BBC is not due to its political coverage, I don’t think the average elector even watches Andrew Marr or Question Time (unlike the average Coffee House reader) it is about the more subliminal influence of shows such as Spitting Image and The New Statesman.
    It is the comedy and drama programmes that reflect a conformist left wing and anti-Conservative world view that I think needs dealing with. The political views of newspapers are not very influential as first their readership is self selected, Telegraph readers don’t tend to read the Guardian, and only those interested in politics read the political sections anyway.
    BBC radio 4 dramas are in the background as you drive and the same political and social assumptions portrayed when you watch comedy or drama on TV.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Dimoto : 11.03pm

    You’re generalising. There’s no thought, amongst politicos or anyone else, that the entire electorate is childlike and naive. There is however a recognition of a section of the adult population which is strongly suggestible, which shows little evidence of being in any way familiar with independent thought, and which the popular media has courted, usually for selfish commercial reasons, by promoting as reasonable the thought that the key to reaching the land of milk and honey lies in eradicating all deep thinking and complexity from social decision-making, and distrusting the motives of any who argue against this.

  • Dimoto

    Dennis Churchill @ 9.10

    I agree with you, but Clarke’s view is probably representative of the overwhelming majority of politicos.

    They seriously underestimate the electorate’s ability to take the truth and draw it’s own conclusions.
    They are convinced of their own injured omnipotence and the electorate’s childlike naivety.

  • Dennis Churchill

    Simon Stephenson.
    May 30th, 2012 8:23pm
    I just don’t think newspapers are very influential as far as the electorate are concerned whereas broadcasting is.
    Only a small proportion of the electorate even read the political sections of the press. Readership figures have collapsed even among those that just scan the most gruesome crime reports and the sport.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Dennis Churchill : 7.21pm

    I’m sorry, but tu quoque doesn’t cut it. The most powerful individual media figure in the UK, by far, is Rupert Murdoch. No one else comes close. The BBC’s output is not controllable by any one individual, nor even by any one group of individuals, in the way that the NewsCorp output has the potential to be.

    As it happens, I agree that the BBC is a haven of “progressive” thinking, and that Sir Anthony Jay sums up very well the outcome of this exclusivity (*). But allowing Murdoch an excess of power is not an antidote to the BBC’s poison – it’s just another poison living side-by-side with the original, and about which nothing is being done. Deal with the problem of the BBC, and deal with the problem of Murdoch at the same time.

    * – In his introduction to Christopher Booker’s report to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, set out in this James Delingpole blog:-

  • Michael

    Perhaps news papers should be rebranded views papers

    After all this is what they are

  • Dennis Churchill

    Simon Stephenson.
    May 30th, 2012 5:53pm
    And let us not forget Alistair Campbell’s old mentor Jan Hoch and the power of the Daily Mirror.
    The BBC is the most powerful section of the media because of its dominant position in broadcasting. This is the media that enters every home in the country. No need to buy a newspaper. Anyone who wants their career to progress is wise to keep to a left wing image even if they work for Sky at the moment.

  • Halcyondaze

    “The smug and self-regarding icon of languid and pompous complacency” – I just couldn’t have put it better myself!

    Thank God I’m not the only one who can’t stand this bloated old “know better than you” buffoon!

    This man symbolises everything that’s wrong with the older breed of MPs – a smug gravy-trainer millionaire who gives no second thought to preaching to the rest of us lesser mortals what should and should not be.

    Ken, this is for you: get off your fat arse and punish criminals, take back powers from the EU, reduce immigration, stand up for Conservatives and stand up for Britain!

  • salieri


    A strikingly novel and interesting proposition. But if MPs were to be debarred from being booted upstairs after their sell-by date, why, few of them would ever stand for election in the first place. And those that did would actually have to believe in something other than the confident expectation of a cushy semi-retirement (plus expenses) in ermine. And where would our political class be then, eh?

    Of course this is a gross calumny on a few principled and hard-working MPs. But there are an awful lot of the other kind.

  • Paul Williams

    “Given that parliament can still make the law of the land”

    Where did you get that absurd idea from? Sorry but when will the Westminster bubble wake up to the fact our laws come from elsewhere?

    Here’s a clue:

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Dennis Churchill : 5.26pm

    I take Clarke’s point as being that a media mogul such as, say, Rupert Murdoch, has far more power of influence over the composition of parliament, and the direction of UK politics, than has any UK political party, and certainly more than is at the disposal of any individual politician. I agree with him.

    But then, Baldwin made the same point about Rothermere and Beaverbrook in the 1930s, so this situation is not a new one.

    We’re hampered by there being too few people who are prepared to take a principled stand against undue accumulation of power – too many wait to see if the power is supportive of them before committing themselves to a general position.

  • strapworld

    Time for the old codger to retire to the place where all old and worn out politcians go to, the House of Lords.

    If there is one change to the establishment of the House of Lords I would love to see, it is a law forbidding any member of the Commons to be elevated to the Lords. That would ruin many a retirement plan.

    Clarke has always believed he is a legend in his own mind.

  • Dennis Churchill

    Simon Stephenson.
    May 30th, 2012 4:35pm
    Do you really think that describes the makeup of the marginal constituencies?
    The Guardian, say, might influence the electorate in Hampstead and the Sun the electorate in Hackney but marginals are by their nature mixed and only possibly the BBC has an almost guaranteed audience in them.

  • Anne Wotana Kaye 1

    Actually Clarke has made an understatement at the Leveson (Robespierre) inquiry. Parliament has no teeth, it has given up the ghost and whimpers are the feet of the EU, Human Rights and every Tom. Dick and Harry who orders it to jump.

  • Fernando

    Was Clarke complaining about the media or modern politicians? He seemed to be saying that politicians feared adverse headlines and impact that might have on public opinion. Wasn’t it ever thus? He could be arguing that that modern politicians are too tongue-tied, too lazy or too lacking in ability to argue their cause effectively.

  • HK

    Basil Gunn: “Murdock (sic) supported Blair three times and he got elected. Then Murdock switches to supporting Cameron and he got elected.”

    Murdoch must be losing his touch – Cameron didn’t actually win the election.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Mr Forsyth

    You make no case whatsoever for accusing Clarke of hyperbole. UK general elections are decided by a relatively small mass of principle-free floating voters, most of whom are on the dim side, to put it mildly, who neither know about nor care about the intricacies of political debate, and whose transitory political affiliations are determined by an imperative to remain in a gang with their mates – mates, all of whom are conditioned subliminally by the red-top reason-free emotion-pullers to which they subscribe, and which are euphemistically described as newspapers.

    That’s the reality of democracy in the dumbed-down 21st century – great, isn’t it?

  • Woody

    If all the recent u-turns are to get the ‘right-wing’ press back on board, then perhaps for future GElections, our ballot papers should just have the names of all the newspapers on, then we can vote for the newspaper we like most.
    The newspaper with the most votes, then proceeds to appoint the cabinet of their choice.
    Quite simple really!

  • Dennis Churchill

    Clarke, like most senior lawyers, is an elitist in as much as he thinks decision making is best left to people like him who he ridiculously thinks of as elite.
    He is anti-democratic,as his views on referenda show and I can’t understand why his local Conservative party does not deselect him and choose a proper Conservative as its candidate.

  • Kitty

    Ken Clarke is correct Politicians
    are obsessed with Headlines,
    he said Margaret Thatcher did not read newspapers and that someone should
    have advised Gordon Brown to stop reading them as it did him no good at all!

  • In2minds

    Once again we should remind ourselves that Cameron appointed Clarke so takes full responsibility here for lardy man and his mouth. I’d get rid of both of them, and quick.

  • Bruce, UK

    Kenneth Clarke is unwell.

    With apologies to Mr Waterhouse.

  • Basil Gunn

    I think that Clark is very close to the truth. Look at recent governments, Murdock supported Blair three times and he got elected.Then Murdock switches to supporting Cameron and he got elected.

  • alexsandr

    i think he has a point. wit all the Spads and stuff all politicians are scared of an adverse headline next day. Look at all the U-turns. The need to grow some balls and stand up to their beliefs, and those who voted for them instead of pandering to the press.
    but as was said on the gove thread, the big problem is not the press but the BBC.

  • Austin Barry

    Given his recent absurd exaggerations perhaps the winner of ‘The Most Agreeable Clubman’ award has drifted into befuddled geezerdom.

    Expect more such bizarre observations from the smug and self-regarding icon of languid and pompous complacency.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    The problem with Clarke is that he is an irrelevant raving frothing swivel eyed pressophobe. And he’s in the wrong party.

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