One of the downsides of Dave’s shadow cabinet dithering is that reshuffle speculation has been going on so long, the story’s moved on. A fortnight ago, even a week ago, Ken Clarke’s return to the Tory front-bench after 11 years would have been the lead news item. Today it was well down the running order in the bulletins.
But leave to one side the process, and let’s look at the outcome: Ken is back. And the question is: is this a good thing for the Tories’ hopes of forming the next government? There is no doubt that Ken himself is a Good Thing: in his decade in the wilderness his lone voice has carried more weight, and been proven more accurate, than the rest of his party’s – most significantly on Iraq and the economy. But then there’s Europe, that Pandora’s Box which Dave dare not open.
Officially, the word is “the party has a settled view on Europe and Ken won’t try to change it”. But as Nick Robinson notes on his blog,
the Tories are opposed to the Lisbon EU Treaty which Clarke has backed and they are committed to holding a referendum on it which could lead to a Cameron-led government Britain re-negotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU.
The closer we get to an election, the more the media, as well as the Lib Dems and Labour, are going to subject Ken’s concept of ‘collective responsibility’ to close examination. His every utterance will be scrutinised, with any pro-Europe statements flagged up loud and clear – and how will the Tory right react when (and it’s not if) that happens? That will be the real test of whether Dave’s roll of the dice has paid off.
Since the financial crisis kicked-off, Gordon Brown has found it necessary to bring back Peter Mandelson to shore up Alistair Darling’s position; and now Dave has been forced to accept Ken’s return to bolster George Osborne’s standing. Three words to conclude: we have Vince.