Clarke pledges to give back power to Parliament

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Indy Politics

Kenneth Clarke promised Tory MPs yesterday that he would act to strengthen the power of Parliament and backbench MPs if he wins the Tory leadership race.

The former Chancellor launched a strong attack on Tony Blair, accusing him of undermining Parliament and his own Cabinet ministers by running the country through a "coterie of advisers" in Downing Street. He promised to sweep away the "presidential" system set up by Mr Blair if he became Prime Minister.

He would also sack "party political" spin doctors such as Alastair Campbell, the Downing Street director of communications, replacing them with civil service press officers.

At a Westminster press conference, Mr Clarke outlined a wide-ranging package of measures to restore the power of MPs to hold government to account, including a strengthening of the select committee system. Under the cover of modernising Parliament since 1997, he said, Labour had been "neutering Parliament" to make it "less of a nuisance".

He argued that Mr Blair's undermining of Parliament had been partly responsible for the 59 per cent turn-out at the general election, the lowest in peacetime since 1832.

"Many of Labour's so-called constitutional reforms over the last four years have eroded the public's respect for politics," he said.

Mr Clarke, who favours a wholly elected House of Lords, said he would only seek to introduce an elected element, with 195 elected members out of a new-look second chamber with 550 members.

Meanwhile, David Davis, another candidate in the Tory leadership race, announced he had won the backing of four more MPs – James Paice, Simon Burns, Andrew Mitchell and Graham Brady, taking his number of pledges to 13.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, announced he was supporting Michael Ancram, the former Tory chairman, saying he would unite the party and modernise it without "re-inventing" it.

When nominations close today, Michael Portillo will be formally proposed by Francis Maude, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Stephen Dorrell, the former health secretary, who said: "Michael Portillo is the change candidate... His approach is a much-needed breath of fresh air."

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