LEADING ARTICLE : Stand and fight, Ken

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The Independent Online
Man of the people Kenneth Clarke doesn't, it seems, trust the people. The Tory politician who has made his image in the Stanley Baldwin mould - Midlands man, downing pints - who has put one of the most attractive faces on post-Thatcher Conservatism - may have come a cropper. If his "friends" are to be trusted (and the bane of many a politician's life are the Doppelganger who go on Newsnight and ventriloquise for them), Mr Clarke thinks a referendum on European monetary union is a resigning issue.

It isn't. Too much hinges on the timing, the kind of question to be put and the electoral dynamics. The Chancellor's cabinet colleagues will surely reflect maturely before taking the unprecedented step of reaching out to the people, providing them with information and arguments and inviting their direct participation in their own government.

That would be a Tory revolution indeed. If they took that step, we hope Kenneth Clarke would be out there on the crease, not skulking behind the sight screens. His start to feel like the politics of petulance. If this is the best the pro-Europe and ostensibly pragmatic wing of the Tory party can do as the stakes for the party's future direction and Britain's future in Europe are raised, then it is a poor show.

Tory commentators have reacted to the Government's White Paper preparatory to the Inter-Governmental Conference with striking agreement and optimism. We are all Euro-sceptics now, they said, arguing there was enough in the document to keep the party together for a while longer. Kenneth Clarke himself has previously said all bets were off till that midnight hour in 1999 when existing obligations require a decision on joining a single currency.

By that stage, with Sir James Goldsmith still marauding about, we might well be wondering whether the unity of the Conservative Party was, any longer, in the national interest. It may be that too clearly pro- and anti-European parties would be more honest and open. Indeed, a referendum might yet be the mechanism through which that split occurs. But Mr Clarke, as the main standard-bearer of the Tory left in Britain - let's not forget Chris Patten prowling around his Hong Kong cage - needs to be in that debate passionately as a member of the Government, not petulantly on the sidelines.

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