The Sketch: Simon Carr

Ken says he'll rely on the one unchanged Tory quality. Is that duplicity?
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The Independent Online

Ken Clarke has returned from flogging fags in the Third World. Filthy-minded readers should note this means he was over there selling cigarettes. This is a sparkling refreshment of his One Nation Toryism and proves him the most inclusive candidate so far.

The fifth candidate launched his leadership campaign at the Institute of Directors. He was oozing confidence from every pore. We assumed it was confidence – it was very hot. The portrait of the Duke of Wellington was visibly perspiring, even though he'd been dead for more than 150 years.

Mr Clark showed himself to be head and shoulders above all other candidates and a good seven inches in front. In an overgroomed age, this is entirely to his credit.

The "Sketch's" fifth aphorism of public life states that politicians and people are antithetical concepts. The more like a politician you are, less like a person you can be. Ken Clarke is obviously a politician, but gives every indication of being a person. By a mysterious symmetry, the reverse is also true.

In the Queen's Speech debates last November, he made two contributions over the heads of his front bench. He landed big punches on the Chancellor and the health minister. At one glance he showed himself as the most powerful parliamentary performer of his party, capable of patronising the prime minister and embarrassing Mr Brown. It is also true that he has more experience of government than the entire government front bench. This will count against him. His record in three great departments of state laid down the solid foundation on which his party's unpopularity is almost unshakeably founded.

Nonetheless, his ease, his frankness – and the confidence that allows him his ease and frankness – are unique in the leadership race. Not once did he use the words "values" or "core beliefs' or "inclusiveness". He just allowed himself to say: "Bigotry and prejudice have never been part of Conservatism' (cries of 'Shame!' from the Tory press at the back of the hall).

But how can a Europhile lead a Euro-sceptic party? "I know perfectly well the majority of people don't agree with me," he told us engagingly.

He went on to expound the strategy the "Sketch" outlined for him over one lunch. Attack the European project with enthusiasm, use enlargement to demand reform of the more disgusting institutions, and humiliate our ancient enemy (the French).

This will satisfy 60 per cent of the Euro-sceptics, delight our hooligan element and provide a permanent rhetorical base on which to attack the government.

It's a five-bottle strategy, paid for our of the "Sketch's" own resources. We ask for nothing in return.

As for the single currency, Mr Clarke has with some initiative, evolved a strategy of his own. His party is split into Euros and Neuros. The "Sketch" is a Neuro for reasons we needn't go into. Mr Clarke has declared that they needn't settle their differences, merely agree to differ. It will be a matter of conscience.

The government will portray this as shambling confusion. But they will discover, on the contrary, as they say in Paris, that the Tories' broad range of opinion will dramatise government control-freakery.

It is for others to analyse the tactics of the leadership election. Mr Clarke's numbers are said to be well down. Many MPs have pledged themselves elsewhere. Mr Clarke said: "I put my faith in the one quality of the party that has remained unchanged."

The duplicity of its MPs, we say. The most solid foundation a politician, or even a person could hope for.