The Cabinet Reshuffle: Tory big hitter becomes the heir apparent: Kenneth Clarke: The main beneficiary of John Major's round of promotions will provide a colourful contrast to the Prime Minister's grey image

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The Independent Online
KENNETH CLARKE'S appointment as Chancellor has upset Tory right-wingers, who regard him as too pro-European, but upsetting people has been the hallmark of his irresistible rise to the top.

Wherever he has gone, Mr Clarke has taken on those he has had to deal with: at Health it was the GPs; at Education it was the teachers; at the Home Office it was the police. Those in the City should prepare for interesting times.

'He's like Margaret (Thatcher) in the sense that he thinks roughing someone up is cathartic and good for you,' one of his Cabinet colleagues said. 'He is terribly offensive, but he gets away with it because he is humorous with it.'

Mr Clarke is a big hitter and the Government's punchiest performer in public, but is said by Cabinet colleagues to be loquacious in Cabinet. 'He does go on a bit. John ought to call him to order a bit more.'

Providing a contrast to John Major's grey image, the move makes Mr Clarke, 52, the heir apparent. 'He has got the great good fortune of inheriting the economy when it's just moving into recovery. John's problem is that Ken will be seen as a powerful threat,' the Cabinet source said.

The Chancellor will deliver a unified Budget in November, which Norman Lamont largely prepared for him. The first test will be the extent of the spending cuts. Mr Clarke can be ruthless, but he is also a pragmatist. He may favour balancing cuts by more increases in taxes.

He is also in favour of returning to the exchange rate mechanism, for which the right wing hates him. But in an interview with David Frost on 16 May, Mr Clarke said: 'I'd be surprised if we were back in before the end of the Parliament.'

Cabinet colleagues believe that in appointing Mr Clarke, John Major was confident they would have a close relationship, free of the conflicts which poisoned relations between Mrs Thatcher and her Chancellors, Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson.

Mr Clarke is a strong supporter of the Maastricht treaty, which he said he had not bothered to read. He makes a virtue of his lack of ideological baggage and likes to think he instinctively represents what the average Tory voters are thinking.

With Mr Major accused of dithering, Mr Clarke looked decisive a week ago when he abolished, rather than tinkered with, unit fines. That earned him praise across the party, including the right wing.

He was playing 'the common man' - wearing Hush Puppies, enjoying cigars, following Nottingham Forest, and drinking pints in Annie's Bar - long before Mr Major discovered the classless society, hiding his intellect behind his bruising exterior. Mr Clarke was born and bred in a Nottinghamshire pit village, but won an 11-plus scholarship to the local high school and he was a member of the Cambridge 'mafia' with Michael Howard and Mr Lamont, who each became president of the Union in successive years.

He impressed the right by doing Mrs Thatcher's bidding in delivering radical changes to the NHS and schools. He believed in the changes, and avoided the political elephant traps. At the Home Office, he demonstrated a right-wing zeal by agreeing to lock up children, restore greater sentencing powers to magistrates and judges, and retreating over passing control of the Metropolitan Police to an elected body.

But Mr Clarke is not trusted by right-wingers. He is a 'one-nation' Tory, a founder member of the wets' club, Nick's Diner, and was one of the few Cabinet ministers to warn Mrs Thatcher before her resignation that if she did not go, he would. They are slow to forget his role in her downfall, and yesterday were quick to condemn his promotion. They will be watching like vultures to see if he strays.

(Photograph omitted)

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