Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
19 January 2009

Ken Clarke’s return

New Statesman political editor Martin Bright gives his reaction to the return of former Tory chancel

By Martin Bright

David Cameron owes it all to Ken Clarke. Although it’s pretty certain he doesn’t see it that way, there is no doubt that Cameron won the Tory party leadership because the support of Tory centrists seeped to away from Clarke about half way through the contest.

The reasons for Clarke’s failure were clear enough at the time. He was complacent and underestimated the hunger of the Cameron camp; his outside interests, especially in the tobacco industry, were embarrassing to the party and meant that he spent relatively little time in the Commons.

But Clarke’s failings, which played to Cameron’s advantage in the leadership campaign could return to haunt the Tory leader now the former chancellor is part of the Shadow Cabinet.

As I wrote in, October 2005, the real Ken Clarke was nothing like the cuddly, avuncular figure of popular mythology. He was a casual parliamentarian and a hawker of cigarettes on behalf of tobacco giant BAT. And although he has a reputation as a moderate, he was an authoritarian home secretary and a traditionalist on education. He is no moderniser.

That said, his grasp of the economy is good. Gordon Brown would have done well to invite him into the National Economic Council, but now Cameron has got there first.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But Tories should also be concerned that this was a decision taken in reaction to the appointment of Peter Mandelson as business secretary: a Tory big beast to match a Labour big beast. Until last autumn Cameron was driving the political agenda on every front from the environment to work-life balance. This appointment makes it look like he is running to catch up.