David Davis, who stunned the Conservative leadership last year by quitting as shadow Home Secretary, today signalled he wanted to return to the political frontline.
He told a fringe meeting organised by The Independent that he would be prepared to accept a Cabinet post under David Cameron as long as it was “a proper job”.
He also backed a future referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union and backed limited tax cuts to help restore growth to the economy.
Mr Davis left the shadow Cabinet in June 2008, forcing a by-election, in an attempt to push the issue of civil liberties up the political agenda. His surprise departure provoked anger within the party leadership which regarded it as a futile gesture.
Mr Davis was unrepentant about his resignation, but said he would be ready to serve in government under Mr Cameron, who defeated him for the party leadership four years ago.
He said he would be interested in a Cabinet post as long as it was not a “cosmetic” appointment playing on his working-class background.
Mr Davis told the meeting: “I don’t want to be just an adornment. If there’s a proper job to be done, an issue to be dealt with, then sure, of course.
“But that’s not my call, and incidentally – just to make sure we don’t put any pressure on David in that direction – I’m also easy the other way.”
“I am very happy to be a backbencher because you can achieve all sorts of things from the backbenches.”
He added, to laughter: “There’s not going to be any proper opposition if we win this election properly so I have some interest there too.”
Mr Cameron has said he wants to bring more experienced faces into his top team and as a former minister Mr Davis, who has a following on the Tory right, would fit the bill.
But the Cameron team is likely to be wary of his advances, and might risk leaving him as a backbench troublemaker if the Tories win the election.
Mr Davis said he had “not one regret” over his decision to trigger a by-election in his Haltemprice and Howden constituency in east Yorkshire, even though neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats contested it.
Steve Richards speaks to ex-Shadow Home Secretary David Davis about his resignation from frontline politics and his plans to return to the fore
He described the move as “shock treatment” to focus public attention on moves to lock up terrorist suspects for up to 42 days, introduce identity cards and expand the DNA database.
“I think I was not a bad shadow Home Secretary, but I was not able by conventional methods to make people think long enough about the issues of liberty and freedom for them to see what the Labour party was actually up to.”
Mr Davis, a former Europe Minister, said he was “entirely comfortable” with Mr Cameron’s call for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty while it remains to be ratified by the Czech and Polish government, and refused to speculate beyond that moment.
But he said public opinion might still have to be tested on Britain’s position within the EU.
“At some point I think there will be another referendum, and it may not be about yes/no to Lisbon if Lisbon is already signed – it may be about something else.”
He made clear he did not favour a vote on EU membership. Asked if he meant a referendum on a new relationship between Britain and the EU, he replied: “That sort of thing”.
Mr Davis said the nation’s huge deficit could not be tackled by spending cuts alone and called for targeted tax reductions to boost the economy.
He criticised corporation tax, which he said was driving foreign companies at its current rate, the proposed 50p top rate of income tax and increased National Insurance contributions on employers.
“There are some elements of taxation where the return for reducing the rate of tax is that you actually end up getting more tax,” Mr Davis said.