There will be those who would have taken great delight in seeing images of Dominique Strauss-Khan led away in handcuffs by NYPD`s finest and the charge of attempted rape made against the head of the International Monetary Fund might even raise the eyebrows of Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke.
This humble blog has previously suggested that avuncular Ken, unlike his odious cabinet colleagues, might achieve some sort of redemption when either the Queen sends them off to the tower or the hungry mob place their heads on pikestaffs along Westminster Bridge. Now, though, Ken has well and truly blown it and is likely to be first against the wall.
Suggesting that there are varying degrees of rape in order to “discount” sentences for rapists is a financial rather than judicial imperative that is jaw-droppingly offensive. If a rapist pleads guilty early on, his tariff is reduced and with “good behaviour” he will be free to re-offend within 15 months. Sorry Ken, rape is rape and no amount of “clarification” at hastily arranged media interviews will extract the hush puppy firmly wedged into your mouth or save you from the fate that you deserve.
It would be easy to suggest that the Justice Secretary was suffering from a hang-over or was under the influence of a liquid breakfast when he made his ill-judged remarks on Five Live and equally easy to suggest that he was quoted out of context. But his attitude and insulting comments reflect what is at the heart of this government. There is no evidence to suggest that an early admission of guilt leads to an increase in successful convictions and to claim that his motive is to prevent victims “re-living” their ordeal before the court is a cynical smoke-screen. The reform of the justice system is about saving money, not about justice.
Although it is tempting to dismiss Clarke as a stereotypical overweight, middle-aged Tory male incapable of any empathy for a rape victim, something more sinister is going on within government. On May 4, only 128 of our MPs bothered to turn up and vote on the first reading of a bill that seeks to introduce compulsory lessons in sexual abstinence for girls only. The bill was proposed by Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire and was passed with six votes.
Ms Dorries later appeared on television to suggest that abstinence lessons for girls would reduce the frequency of sexual assaults against children, the logic being that it is the responsibility of the child to say no.
Nadine seems to be a bit of a publicity addict and is happy to say anything outrageous in return for seeing her name in a newspaper or her face on TV. Having fiddled her expenses, lied to her constituents and described people with disabilities as “work-shy scroungers”, it emerged that she embarked on a sexual relationship with the husband of a former friend. When this lack of abstinence was revealed, she issued a press statement describing her former friend as an abusive alcoholic
Saying no, or admitting guilt or even saying sorry will not protect the honour and well-being of our beloved Laura Norder. Clarke has been forced to apologise for his unwise words but has laughed at suggestions that he should resign. An apology or admission of guilt, however, does not justify criminality. Consider David Laws, a cabinet minister in the coalition for just 17 days. His crime was to defraud the state of more than £40,000. His defence was that he wished to conceal his sexuality. His punishment was suspension from the commons which, in effect, granted him a week off work and has delayed his likely return to cabinet. If only he had said no before he was required to say sorry.
Spare a thought for fellow Liberal Democrat cabinet member and “big beast” Chris Huhne, infamous for claiming money for a trouser press, who allegedly pressured his now estranged wife to take the penalty points he owed for a speeding offence. Essex police are making enquiries so expect an apology any day now.
So what is poor old Laura to do, especially now with massive cuts, sorry, efficiencies to funding for the police service and ministers being let off the hook? Step forward Home Secretary Theresa May, a girl who clearly has the ability to say no. After being jeered by members of the Police Federation at their conference in Bournemouth, the only sound in the hall at the end of her speech was the click of her high heels as she left the stage. Quite how the NYPD would react to Mrs May remains unclear.
In New York, Dominique Strauss-Khan, having resigned as head of the IMF is on suicide watch at Rikers Island prison, a slammer universally described as “notorious”, vigorously denying the allegations being made against him. Whatever happened in the hotel prior to M. Strauss-Khan being dragged off an aircraft at JFK is almost incidental particularly if we are to accept Kenneth Clarke’s supposition that there are degrees of rape. The damage, along with the similar allegations surrounding Julian Assange, has already been done.
Wild-eyed conspiracy theorists bellow of a set-up and point to the many powerful enemies that Strauss-Khan has attracted and find the timing of his arrest on the eve of a further meeting to bail out Portugal and Greece significant. President Sarkozy, currently suffering a decline in approval and with French opinion polls revealing that Strauss-Khan is more popular, will be enjoying this particular affair and the growing millions that believe that the term “banker” is synonymous with “criminal” will take delight at at the incarceration of the former head honcho. You don’t get to be boss of the IMF by being a nice guy.
The American media are taking every opportunity to remind the audience that Don Dom is French and so therefore must be as guilty as hell. But what they forget is that behaviour considered as outrageous in the Oval Office or Arkansas has a long tradition in French politics. Indeed many senior French politicians see promiscuity as a duty rather than a guilty secret.
The French public hardly batted an eyelid when former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, upon leaving a “notorious” brothel in the early hours of the morning, drunkenly crashed his car into the gatepost. Le Francais seemed more concerned about his injuries rather than what he had been up to in the preceding hours and the Paris press seemed proud that a man of such age still had the va va voom for some ooh la la. Similarly, when François Mitterrand publicly acknowledged his secret, illegitimate daughter in 1994, the news was greeted by a Gallic shrug of collective indifference. Back home, Dominique Strauss-Khan is something of a hero.
If Kenneth Clarke is correct and there are different severities of rape, then the IMF man, who can afford a clever legal team, shouldn’t be too worried even if he is guilty of such a vile crime. If innocent, though, his career at the top of a corrupt banking system is over and he will quietly retire and spend his time browsing the aisles of the Pigalle branch of MFI.
Another very rich banker may yet face justice. Sir Fred Goodwin has had part of his injunction lifted to reveal that he had a “relationship” with a senior colleague at RBS. It would be wonderful if the mystery woman turned out to be called Laura. Even is she isn’t, one imagines that she wished that she had said no.