Leading article: Politics pure and unspun: a bracing day at the seaside

Share
Related Topics

But the contest - an opening round, but no less crucial for that - was Clarke v Cameron. They did not disappoint. It is a pity that the party's leadership rules do not permit more than two candidates going forward to be voted on in the constituencies. Unless the MPs' favourite, David Davis, somehow exits early, however, it is likely to be either Mr Clarke (who is a director of this newspaper) or Mr Cameron, who presents the alternative to Mr Davis, but not both. Depending on the mood of MPs, it could even be neither.

Which would be a shame. It could also spell the ultimate decline of the Tory party as a political force. As yesterday's duel showed, however, there is life in the old party yet, and Clarke v Cameron showed just how effective an alert party leader, plugged in to the realities of life in today's Britain, could be. The two were well matched. Each in his own way exuded both competence and confidence; their agendas were not a million miles apart. And it was not David Cameron's fault that the distinction between men and boys came to mind well before Kenneth Clarke reached his rousing finale.

Mr Cameron advertised his relative youth and his potential to impressive effect. He covered the waterfront, springing elegantly from the broad principles of high politics to the nuts and bolts of social policy, and back through the further reaches of abroad. His point that a Conservative foreign policy under Cameron would not stop at Zimbabwe and Gibraltar, but would embrace Darfur and the rest of Africa, was well made; his positive tone throughout was refreshing.

If David Cameron represents one - eminently plausible - face of the Conservative Party's future, however, Kenneth Clarke surely established that it was too early, far too early, for the party to consign him to its past. In terms of energy and vigour, it was hard to believe that, at 65, he is almost twice as old as Mr Cameron. In terms of authority and gravitas, on the other hand, the weight of those additional years placed him in quite a different league.

In what amounted to a superior job application, Mr Clarke set himself three tasks. First, to demonstrate that his ambition was undiminished, despite his age and despite his rejection by the party in the past. Second, to establish that his qualifications made him as worthy of election as Gordon Brown, both as party leader and prime minister. Third, to show how he would acquit himself against Tony Blair. He convinced on all three counts, but especially on the last.

By singling out "spin" and Mr Blair's style of government, Mr Clarke demonstrated both his old-style Tory credentials as defender of the unwritten constitution and an acute awareness of what concerns so many voters about Mr Blair. Always bluff, he was in character when he promised, if elected, to "say what I think and do what I say" and deliver "politics unspun".

At the very least, Mr Clarke made us wistful for the confrontations that might have been across the dispatch box, had Mr Clarke led the Conservatives over these past four years. At most, he has won the chance to show - at the third time of trying - how a credible Opposition would cope with Mr Blair and New Labour.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
King Abdullah made Saudi Arabia prosperous but had absolute disregard for what liberal Westerners would view as basic human rights  

The media cannot ignore tricky questions when someone dies - but it must stick to the facts

Will Gore
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us