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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Ken Clarke statement in full
The full text of Ken Clarke's statement as he formally announced he was standing for the leadership of the Conservative party:

The issue for Conservatives when choosing their new leader is who is most likely to win a general election victory again.

This will only happen if we win back the millions of voters who have deserted us for Labour or the Liberal Democrats since 1992.

The public regard Michael Portillo and myself as the only candidates who are now credible potential prime ministers.

I am delighted that this time the whole party membership will decide who is to be their leader.

I offer myself as the leader best able to carry the fight to Labour and win back the lost Conservative voters.

For Tory members, the first hurdle of my candidature is Europe although it is not the big issue so far as the public is concerned.

Can a pro-European like myself successfully lead a Conservative party which, until a few weeks ago, was consumed by euroscepticism?

Now, most of the candidates seem to be urging near-silence on the European issue in the leadership election.

The wider public will see this as dodging the issue which I wish to address directly at the outset of my campaign.

The issue of Britain's relations with Europe has poisoned the internal politics of the Conservative party for a decade, destroying both John Major's and William Hague's leadership.

If we are to win, this has to stop.

The single currency is the symbolic focus of a wider debate about Britain's role in the modern world. It is quite futile to pretend that this is now just a problem for the Labour government.

I regret the dominance of Europe as the issue at the heart of Conservative politics.

I have never been obsessed by the subject. I have only occasionally made public speeches on the subject in recent years.

I based my general election campaign in Rushcliffe on the health service and crime. My speeches in the last Parliament were about the economy, taxation, the health service, housing and green fields, House of Lords reform and trial by jury.

We all now seem to accept the need for more tolerance of the full range of views on Europe.

We must return the party to a more balanced position on Europe that can sensibly embrace a broad range of views.

A balanced tone on Europe will free us to address in depth the domestic, economic and social agenda which we neglected throughout the last Parliament.

The other candidates for the leadership all hint that they would be prepared to include one or two pro-Europeans in their shadow cabinet, free to argue for a single yes vote in any referendum campaign.

However, such pro-Europeans would apparently be expected, unlike their colleagues inside the shadow cabinet, to remain silent until any referendum is called.

They would have no freedom of speech on other official eurosceptic policies.

Far from sweeping away the Berlin wall which divides the party, this approach would only remove a brick or two.

I remain a conviction politician and I do not hide my views on the single currency. I believe it will be in Britain's interests to join the single currency when the conditions arise including a sensible exchange rate. We could not join now at the present exchange rate.

However, no-one knows whether Tony Blair will ever have the courage of his convictions and call a referendum.

What must not happen is that we Tories allow him to use the possibility of a referendum as a means of keeping the Conservative Party in turmoil.

All Conservatives, including the shadow cabinet, should have a free vote and freedom in debate on the single currency.

But the single currency will not be an issue at the next General Election.

If a referendum is held during this Parliament, the issue will have been settled. If no referendum is held, it will be waiting for a possible future referendum.

The new leader must lead a huge effort to develop an agenda of attractive policies on the matters which will be decisive when the country next chooses a government in a general election.

The party can only reach a sensible compromise of its past divisions and establish an appeal to a wider electorate if both wings of the party are prepared to move towards each other.

Freedom of speech within a cabinet on any subject will never work if violent extremes of opinion are freely expressed.

I have never been a federalist. I believe that the governments of nation states should continue to be the decision makers in the European Union. I want to see a decentralised and a deregulated Europe.

I would be flatly opposed to any transfer of power over taxes or public spending to the European Council and I would retain the national veto over both.

The budget of the union should not be allowed to grow as a proportion of GDP which could be quite adequate in an enlarged union.

The budget itself and control of that budget cries out for more reform. I am not an enthusiast for the present institutional arrangements of the union which are in urgent need of improvement. These have always been my views and I remain committed to them.

The Conservative Party should ally itself with other centre-right parties in Europe to argue for a union of nation states based on market economics, free trade and treaty obligations that serve the global common interests of the member nation states.

Our official policy at the general election was that Conservatives favoured enlarging the union but opposed the Treaty of Nice which paves the way for enlargement.

We opposed the extension of qualified majority voting to any new subject, however trivial. We were hostile to the European rapid reaction force.

We demanded that our Parliament should be able to overturn judgments of the European Court whenever we disagreed with the court's rulings on our treaty obligations.

These policies are difficult to reconcile with Britain's continued membership of the European Union.

When I am leader, these will not be the official policies of the party.

Throughout the last Parliament we used vivid language about the imagined threat to create a superstate and the mythical imminent risk of being governed from Brussels instead of Westminster. The electorate interpreted this as extreme English nationalism.

Such extreme reactions to any proposals for the further development of the European Union dismay all Britain's true friends and allies in America and Europe. Any ground rules for a new start for a broader based and united Conservative Party must tone down our language and speak realistically on European issues.

The frustration for all sensible Conservatives is that there are so many other important issues where we should be united and usually are. Indeed, the lessons of our crushing election defeat are blindingly obvious to us all. We should stop talking to ourselves about Europe and start talking to the electorate about the things that matter to them.

Most leading Conservatives have immediately accepted the need to develop credible and distinctive policies on the future of the public services and the health service in particular. The lack of such policies was the biggest single cause of our defeat.

Conservatives should all be social liberals, accepting personal liberty to choose different lifestyles and welcoming the cultural diversity of modern Britain. Bigotry and prejudice have never been part of Conservatism.

The need for more positive language about what we are in favour of and an end to opportunism and populism seem suddenly to be recognised by all. These self-evident truths are being accepted by all the candidates for leadership.

The Conservative Party now needs leadership capable of attracting back the millions of voters we have lost to the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

We have no shortage of candidates for the leadership but we do lack, so far, anyone likely to have that sort of appeal.

Tory MPs and association members will want a genuine move back to the mainstream centre right of politics. Without this, the party will not be capable of winning an election.

A mere change of faces and change of language at the top will only retain the core level of support to which we have been reduced.

I have 18 years of experience in government and cabinet, reforming health, education and welfare as well as the management of the economy. These are precisely the areas which the party now needs to address if it is serious about wanting to return to power.

The election will not be won or lost on Europe: it will be won or lost on the credibility of the major parties to run the economy well, to deliver effective public services, and to articulate the aspirations of the British people.

I intend to return to these issues throughout this leadership campaign once we have cleared Europe out of the way.

We have just wasted four years before suffering the most humiliating defeat in Conservative history. We could have achieved a much better result against a Labour Government that was unpopular and had been unsuccessful.

Many people voted with a heavy heart for another term of Blair Government because they could see no electable alternative.

I want to see another Tory government soon.

The party membership must now decide whether they have re-acquired the will to win again.

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