Michael Brown: Is Ken Clarke enjoying one last tease?

Share

"But can Ken be fagged?" That is the question the Conservatives are asking of its big-cigar smoking beast in the Tory jungle as he teases them and the media about his leadership intentions. It is the most amusing irony that Kenneth Clarke, that most Europhile of Tories, should be cheering on the results of the French and Dutch referendums even more loudly than Bill Cash, the arch Tory Eurosceptic.

"But can Ken be fagged?" That is the question the Conservatives are asking of its big-cigar smoking beast in the Tory jungle as he teases them and the media about his leadership intentions. It is the most amusing irony that Kenneth Clarke, that most Europhile of Tories, should be cheering on the results of the French and Dutch referendums even more loudly than Bill Cash, the arch Tory Eurosceptic.

The theory now circulating is that both the European constitution and British entry into the single currency are now firmly off the domestic political agenda. At a stroke, so this theory goes, the past 15 years of schism within the Tory party over Europe enables Mr Clarke to re-enter the leadership stakes with his views on Europe no longer a bar to leading his party.

It is an attractive proposition. But for his differences with the rest of his party, Mr Clarke could well have been leader either in 1997 or in 2001. On the first ballot among Tory MPs, when John Major resigned, he actually came top. And he led in the final ballot in 2001 before facing Iain Duncan Smith in the run-off ballot of party members.

There is no doubt that Mr Clarke remains the most well known Tory backbencher - apart from Boris Johnson - and still has plenty of puff, judging from his continued enjoyment of cheroots, in him. While Michael Howard may feel that, at 64, he is too old to fight the next election, Mr Clarke - one year older - obviously feels that by the age of 69, when the next election takes place in 2009 or 2010, he will be able to present a certain Churchillian comparison to the electors.

On the age question, there should be absolutely no bar to Mr Clarke's possible candidacy. Ageism should have no more place in politics than sexism or racism. Mr Blair may be a fitness fanatic, but he seems to end up with more heart and back trouble than Ken Clarke, who smokes, drinks and eats his way through several square meals a day. A Prime Minister Clarke would be physically tougher and stronger in his seventies than Prime Minister Blair has been in his early fifties.

Mr Clarke would undoubtedly be first rate at the rough and tumble at the dispatch box. If Gordon Brown takes over later in this parliament as Prime Minister, the two old sparring partners would be back. But that was the theory which originally commended Michael Howard's candidacy against Tony Blair in 2003. In the end Howard's past proved to be an impediment against Blair, and I fear the same might be the case in a staging of the Clarke and Brown show.

Mr Clarke has already shown his ability to appeal to a sizeable chunk of the parliamentary party. This time, though, one in four of the Tory MPs is new. They are anxious to look to the future and would not necessarily provide Mr Clarke with the bulk of their support. He can still probably rely on the dwindling band of senior traditional "one nation" Tories such as John Gummer (yes - he's still there), Michael Jack, Sir George Young, Michael Mates and possibly Ian Taylor.

Whether Mr Clarke would be prepared to engage with the reforms currently being debated within the Tory party about the need to reflect modern Britain is less certain.

In 2002, when Clause 28 was still wracking the party, he made it clear - actually at a party conference Independent rally - that he could not understand what all the fuss was about. Mr Clarke is no homophobe and is a genuine liberal. But this is where the age thing does become a problem. He is set in his ways and is not always aware of quite how modern Britain is changing.

But the biggest question mark over a Clarke leadership would still be over Europe. On this heady morning, the Europhobes are celebrating the death of a federal Europe, but there will still be battles ahead. By the time of the next election the Euro-fudges will be back on the British political table. Indeed they will probably occupy the energies of both main party leaders, whoever they are, for the next four years.

There is little doubt that the next Tory leader will have to command a majority of Tory MPs. That means that the wider party membership might not necessarily get the leader of its choice. Were Mr Clarke to win in Parliament he would face - at least initially - an uphill struggle among the wider party.

Yesterday's YouGov poll of Tory members showed 54 per cent for David Davis, 30 per cent for David Cameron, 24 per cent for Liam Fox and 19 per cent for Mr Clarke. In the end, I have a hunch that Ken is simply enjoying one last tease. But then again, Tory leadership contests are the biggest political brainteasers of them all.

mrbrown@pimlico.freeserve.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore