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UK Politics

Andy McSmith's Diary: This old trouper is well placed to spot a loser in Tory leadership contest

Our man in Westminster

Ken Clarke has held government office longer than any other living Briton. He was one of a handful who were in post without interruption from 1979 to 1997, the only one of that select band who had also held office in the 1970s, as a junior whip under Ted Heath, and the only one to be a minister in the present government. But all good things must come to an end, and it seems that the old trooper may be is on the point of hanging up his boots.

He was asked during a beer and sandwiches event with lobby journalists today whether he plans to contest his Rushcliffe seat again in 2015, and said: “I am on the point of making up my mind.” His love of politics is undiminished - but on the other hand if he stood again, he would in effect be committing himself to stay on as an MP until May 2020, when he will be a month away from his 80th birthday.

The other record he holds is that he has lost more elections to the Conservative Party leadership than anyone else in living memory, always to younger and less experienced candidates. In 1997, he lost to William Hague, after a strident 'back Hague' intervention from Margaret Thatcher. He lost in 2001 to Iain Duncan Smith, the only opposition leader in recent times with poll ratings worse than Ed Miliband's. Finally, in 2005, he looked as if he was in with a chance of beating the front runner, David Davis, when David Cameron burst into the contest.

With that track record, he might not be the best person to pick the winner of the next leadership election. When asked whom he would choose in a contest between George Osborne and Theresa May, he replied that there may not be a vacancy for years, because David Cameron is “looking better and better” and “we could be in the happy position, as Margaret was, of having an unelectable opposition.”

He was, however, effusive in praise of the Chancellor, who he said “is bound to be a contender when the time comes” - and did not even mention Theresa May in his answer. He did not sound keen on Boris Johnson either, saying: “Even if he has an interest in the leadership, he should cool it.”

Go home? Try get off: Home Office 'stole' fonts

Those vans that went into Brixton and other racially mixed places telling illegal immigrants to 'go home or face arrest' were not only “stupid and offensive” - Vince Cable's words, not mine - but are now dragging the government into a dispute over copyright.

Fabien Delage, a French designer, has accused the Home Office of using a typeface he designed, without his permission and without paying him. The typeface, Plane Crash, is available free online for personal use, but cannot be used commercially without the designer's permission.

He said: “I create typefaces and that's how I earn my living. My fonts are free for personal use only, if you want to use them for work you have to purchase the licence on my website. I have absolutely no way to control who's using my fonts except for freelance artists that play the game, buy the licence online and get a licence agreement from me.

”I found out that the Home Office was using my font thanks to a British graphic designer who told me he recognised the typeface printed two-feet high on vans. My partners and customers now suspect I might have been involved in this campaign which, let me tell you, has been quite unpopular abroad.'

The Home Office said: “We are seeking to contact the copyright owner in relation to the use of the font. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”

'Mad Mel' writes on... but where?

Everybody's favourite Daily Mail columnist, Melanie Phillips, aka Mad Mel, has lost her regular Monday slot, after 12 years. She announced this on her blog in her characteristically demur way  - “Many write to me to say I am the only reason they read the paper. Only today, I was stopped at a Tube station by a woman who said: 'I love your articles; don't ever stop writing them'. I can promise her, and all my many followers, that I shall indeed continue to write them.”

Oh, but where will we be able to read them? We await further news.

You can't account for such errors

Under the stewardship of Eric Pickles, the Department of Communities and Local Government has been bearing down on local councils, making them keep a careful check on every pound that passes through their accounts. How embarrassing that as the Department published its own annual accounts today, they had to add this note - “Errata: this year's report unfortunately contained an error which meant that the cost of compulsory redundancy figures was reported as being £251,525,000.The actual figure is significantly less at £1,680,000. The report will be amended in due course.”

A short-sighted government

I think Nick Clegg and David Cameron are morphing into a single entity. Not only do they see eye to eye on politics, but each has eyes as weak as the other's. The outside world was surprised when the Prime Minister put on his reading glasses for the first time in public during a committee hearing this week, but this was no surprise to the Deputy Prime Minister. He told LBC's Nick Ferrari today that “some months ago”, he and Mr Cameron were having one of their biweekly meetings when “we suddenly spontaneously both got out our glasses.” Is this government becoming short sighted?