Clark selected to stand for Chelsea

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The former minister Alan Clark is this morning recovering from a characteristically exuberant night of celebration after one of the most astonishing political comebacks of recent years.

No doubt it was his party spirit which won him the seat. But as he surveys the world through this morning, the maverick former minister can console himself with the thought that he has captured what he described as "the jewel in the crown". Mr Clark, who is as dry as his predecessor Sir Nicholas Scott was wet, emerged triumphant in the third and final ballot for the Kensington and Chelsea seat at 10.30pm.

There were roars of applause, a standing ovation, wolf-whistles, the works. He had come, quipped and conquered the safest Tory seat in the country.

His polished wit had known no bounds from beginning to end. He opened his speech to the 800-odd assembled delegates with a joke. He was the last of the four candidates to speak and his opening gambit was: "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for waiting." He accepted his cherished prize with the words: "I am going to behave in a manner that is suitable and proper."

All the schmoozing at constituency parties over the past two years had paid off in the end, and the blue-rinse brigade had betrayed their true colours. The celebrity vote sealed it. One publicity liability had been replaced by another.

The 68-year-old, looking far younger than his years, brought along two persuasive props: his "wife, lover, supporter and mentor" Jane, who played the part in a double string of pearls and peacock blue dress, and his baby grandson who he introduced as: "possibly the youngest member of the constituency association."

His speech was peppered with references to his celebrated diaries. He had, he said, been grilled by the previous selection panels about the "amount of claret consumed on the night of the 23rd July 1983". At times he was almost Churchillian. "I love Britain," he thundered. "I love this great country of ours which was undefeated in two world wars, was ready to sacrifice its body and treasures."

The consummate politician, Mr Clark managed to spin his answers to the questions out for a long time and deflect any difficult ones with his charm.

He had gone on record describing his last Tory Association as "petty, malign, clumsily conspiratorial and parochial." Was he the man for the job, asked one member? "Jane and I still get 150 Chirstmas cards or more a year from Plymouth. When we see our workers at conference we all hug each other and go straight to the bar." he replied.

Some have suggested that one negative point in Mr Clark's favour is that he is likely to stand for only two terms. A number of the local Tories were looking for someone to keep the seat warm for Chris Patten when he returns from Hong Kong.

But although Mr Clark said in written statement to the meeting: "I do not intend to outstay any welcome that the association may extend to me," he confided on Wednesday night: "If I get in, touch wood, I'm certainly not going to give it up for Chris Patten."

One woman shook her head as she made her way out of partying hall at the end of the evening. "Absolutely unbelievable. Appalling," she tut- tutted. Blinded by the flash of oncoming photographers, she added hastily: "I'd better shut up or I'll get lynched."

I joined the Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Association last year to attend Sir Nicholas Scott's deselection meeting, writes Clare Garner. My chances of pulling the same stunt this time seemed slim. I got no notice of last night's meeting. Without an invitation, there was no admission. I protested: "But I'm a fully paid-up member". The association admitted, grudgingly, that it had no right to keep me from my political duties. I turned up. They gave me a ballot slip. And I voted - for Scott.