Is Ken’s return good news for the Tories?

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.

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  • Letters From A Tory: Coming from a party with David Cameron allegedly in charge, there’s a bit of pot and kettle in there, don’t you think?

  • David Morton 19th Jan '09 - 10:42am

    The man was a minister for the full 18 years of the last Tory Government. he knows about colective responsibility, has successfully pulled it off in the heat of government. I suspect staying on message asa shadow cabinet minister will actually be easier. You use the word “wilderness”. I think self impose exile would be better. he could have come back at any point i the last 11 years indeed often at a more senior rank than BERR technically is. I doubt very much he’d do this now if he was going to end his career by being sacked by cameron for some minor gaffe over Europe. What ever else he is he is a serious politican, already in the pantheon and can earn a fortune outside parliament.

    he will only have returned for a reason and he knows it. I think if the Lib Dem response is ” This is great news, we’ll have Tory splits on Europe again” then I think thats delusional.

    If I were a Cowley Street strategist ( don’t write in the comments that that is a horrifying thought – I know it is ) I’d be looking at three angles.

    1. What is this going to do to Vince Cables air time ? There are no control experiments in politics. many have asked why the party has had no poll bounce from Vince’s transfiguration into a national figure. We have no idea how much worse the polling might have been without it.

    Clarke has gravitas, experience, is a human being not a speak your weight machine and can talk authoritatively about economics in plain english. This is the media gap that Vince has been filling.

    2. Is Clarke a Love Bomb ? Anti War, Jazz, Cigars, Twitching,Cricket and Football, Pro European. he is a kind of Charles Kennedy with out the wee drams.

    3. Will he dent the only current drag on Tory Polling ? The Do Nothing Charge. I find it difficult to believe that any intrviewer will be able to land that charge on Clarke. will he change the narrative ?

    My own view is that this is very, very big news and needs a thought out response. By all means bang the tribal war drums and slag the guy off. But it the strategic response is to stick our heads in the sand, wait for UKIP efections and mention that he sold fags to Vietnamese chldren then i fear we’ll be on a hiding to nothing.

  • Is it time for the Liberal Democrats own big beasts to make a return to the front bench in a show of unity?? Charles K and Ming remain too of the most recognised Lib Dems. Paddy Ashdown did not get the job of UN representative for Afghanistan (I am sure to Afghanistan’s loss), so surely could have the time for a front bench portfollio too. I can but dream …

  • “I envisage Ken Clarke sitting alongside Vince discussing economic matters so I don’t imagine this will be a problem for us.”

    Why ever not?

    He will certainly be contradicting a lot of what Vince Cable says. Cable’s advantage is that he comes across as authoritative, but will he really come across as more authoritative than Clarke?

    Remember, the Tories have absolutely no interest in giving the Lib Dems an easy ride.

  • I’d like to congratulate my MP, Ken Clarke, on his success. I’d also like to congratulate him on the wise statement, reported on Saturday, that “Anybody who stands at the next election on a platform of tax cuts is asking for trouble.” If yu want a bit of down-to-earth common sense, come to Rushcliffe!

    Seriously, Clarke’s statement was clearly a shot across the bows of Cameron and Osborne. Ken has given way on Europe, but he has made sure he will have his way on tax. The Tories will not be standing on grossly unrealistic promises of “big permanent tax cuts”, at a time when government debt is rising through the roof. Nick Clegg is now alone and isolated in his dream world.

  • So “wit and wisdom” is Barack Obama?

    I’m amazed he has time to post here just at the minute.

  • love bomb, bomb, bomb/
    bomb, bomb Clarke

  • David Allen 19th Jan '09 - 4:04pm


    You have a point. However, Obama has concentrated on talking about what he is going to do now, as a fiscal stimulus. Whether he really thinks he can make permanent cuts, as Clegg claims he can, we shall have to find out. I suspect he will eventually have to relinquish that halo!

  • “I agree with Nickers …”

    Whenever I hear people call him that, I can’t help thinking of Margot Asquith’s retort about the ‘t’ being silent, as in Harlow…

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