Clarke says Duncan Smith has raised his morale

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Indy Politics

The former Conservative chancellor Kenneth Clarke praised Iain Duncan Smith's attempt to return the Tories to the centre ground yesterday but warned that real policy "substance" was need to attract voters back to the party.

Mr Clarke, who was defeated by Mr Duncan Smith in the Conservative leadership contest last year, said he was "surprised and delighted" that his rival was now talking about poverty and public services. But he also issued a stark message that the new focus on such issues at the party's spring conference in Harrogate had to be seen to be more than just rhetoric.

"It will take more than one weekend to persuade people that the Conservative Party is heading back in a more sensible direction," he said.

Mr Clarke, who had castigated his opponent in the leadership contest last year as a "hanger and a flogger", also ruled out any return to the Shadow Cabinet.

Mr Duncan Smith attracted favourable headlines when he made a commitment to help the poor and vulnerable in society in his keynote speech in Harrogate last month.

Mr Clarke said that the Tory leader's new approach was a welcome break from that of William Hague and contrasted sharply with the Eurosceptic "foreign land" speech of Mr Duncan Smith's predecessor.

Mr Clarke said: "I though that the Harrogate speech was a very welcome start to what will be a very long haul to get back into power. It's extremely important that we talk about public service and demonstrate that we have a genuine concern for the vulnerable and less well off people.

"But this will have to be followed up and have some substance put on it. I think we lost the general election because we spent the whole time talking about the wrong subjects."

Mr Clarke said he hadbeen "pleasantly surprised" by Mr Duncan Smith's actions in his first six months of leadership, including his decision to force Tory frontbenchers to resign from the right-wing Monday Club.

He added that his "morale" as a backbencher had been greatly improved by the new Shadow Cabinet's decision to talk about poverty, public services and civil liberties.