Leading article: A welcome hat in the ring

Mr Clarke's involvement certainly means the contest will be more bearable for those with no particular stake in its outcome. It has become something of a cliché to say so, but it is nonetheless true that the public relates to Mr Clarke (who is on the advisory board of the company which owns this newspaper). He has an affable air and does not come across as self-important. He also has a reputation for speaking his mind. Unlike many of his peers, he has never adopted the technique of answering difficult questions with bland soundbites. Hearing him argue his case will make a refreshing change from the routine evasions of government ministers on the Today programme.

The question of what Mr Clarke now stands for is more interesting. His recent remarks about the single currency have raised a question mark over his present position on - Europe. He is justified in pointing out that Europe's recent economic performance and the French rejection of the EU constitution mean that his pro-European views are not the impediment to becoming Tory leader they once were. But will he now shy away from re- emphasising his past support for the EU in order to win the votes of Eurosceptic backbenchers? And if he has rethought his position on Europe, what does he now believe?

What is missing from British politics is a competent official Opposition to hold an increasingly authoritarian government to account. For some years now - and for a variety of reasons - the Tory party has been failing to do that. Mr Clarke certainly has the political room to challenge the Government over the quagmire in Iraq. He was one of the few senior Tory MPs who opposed the invasion. He also has the authority to take on Gordon Brown over the economy - which has long been Labour's trump card in elections. Mr Clarke was, after all, the chancellor from whom Mr Brown took over in 1997.

None of this means that Mr Clarke will win the leadership. The party may find that his views are simply too divergent from its own, despite his popularity in the country. Nor is it yet possible to say that he should win. That verdict will have to await the end of the campaign. But it is indisputably a good thing for British politics that Mr Clarke has decided to throw his fedora, once again, into the ring.

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