Clarke calls for unity but raps leader over tax cuts

The former chancellor Kenneth Clarke delivered a stinging attack on Iain Duncan Smith's flagship policies on tax and Europe yesterday.

At a fringe meeting organised by The Independent, Mr Clarke also ruled out joining the Shadow Cabinet, saying he wanted to argue for the policies he believed in.

David Davis, the shadow Deputy Prime Minister, called for Mr Clarke to rejoin the front bench, but Mr Clarke said he would "probably" decline. He said: "Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I don't agree with where we are going."

Mr Clarke appealed for unity and an end to the bitter factional in-fighting within the party. But, speaking to a packed meeting, he immediately criticised Mr Duncan Smith's pledge last weekend to cut tax rates, warning that they could not be reduced until public spending and borrowing were brought under control.

He predicted that the Tories could win the next election, but warned that the party had to get away from "this sense of crisis, which others would wish upon us".

Mr Clarke told the audience of about 500 people: "We've got to be credible about lower taxation and public spending and how we can move on to improve the public services. I personally believe the first priority of whoever takes over from Gordon Brown will be getting spending and borrowing under control. The first thing to do is produce a stable economic situation and do so without damaging public services. Tax cuts come after that. Tax cuts come when you've got public spending and borrowing under control."

He also clashed with the party's demands for a referendum on the new European Union constitution, demanded a return of council tax capping and renewed his criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq.

Mr Davis won loud applause when he demanded a referendum on the proposed constitution, but Mr Clarke issued a withering critique of Conservative calls for a vote.

He said: "The first thing I would like to see is what is in this treaty and whether it matches my vision of what the EU should be like ... If you are going to vote 'no' whatever the text is, what are you going to do when you have voted 'no'? Are you going to leave? I'm not quite sure. Are you going to have a non-rules-based, non-super-national European Union?

"This treaty strengthens the Council of Ministers, which is nation states, gives more to the European Parliament, gives more power to national parliaments and greatly weakens the Commission."

Mr Clarke also backed the concept of central government targets, while calling for a radical cull of Labour's culture of target-setting. He said: "The public are more desperate to see an alternative government to the present one than they were this time last year.

"Our need now in opposition, having been thrown out so firmly six years ago, is to come up with a body of policy which is credible and makes it clear to people how we are going to deliver our objectives."

On Iraq, he renewed his criticism of the decision to launch military action. He said the Hutton inquiry was a "tasteless tragic sideshow" about the war between the Government and the BBC, which had diverted attention from the wider question of why Britain went to war.

Mr Clarke told members he remained an advocate of council-tax capping, and warned them not to take the concept of local accountability to extremes.

He said: "You need some targets, you don't need hundreds of them. It is correct to target that you have shorter waiting times, it is correct that you target higher detection rates from crime, it is correct that you target numeracy and literacy and some academic attainment in schools, otherwise what are the public to do if their own local provider just fails to deliver?"

He warned that in-fighting had dogged the party for a decade. "You will not make progress if you continue to have factions plotting. They made a fair old mess of the Major government and they will make a fair old mess of opposition if the same little group just repeats," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement