Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Clarke in Tory front bench return

Ken Clarke
Ken Clarke: Was chancellor during the 1990s

David Cameron has hailed the return of ex-chancellor Ken Clarke to the Conservative front bench team.

He said Mr Clarke was a "big figure" who would take the role of shadow business secretary as part of the "best economic team in Britain".

The move will see Mr Clarke, 68, take on fellow returning big-hitter Lord Mandelson in what is a crucial area as the economic turmoil continues.

Current shadow business secretary Alan Duncan will be offered another post.

'Great experience'

Mr Clarke met David Cameron for lunch at the shadow chancellor George Osborne's west London home on Saturday to agree the basis of his return, according to BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

"The hope is he brings real firepower to that Tory front bench and also quite a lot of understanding of the plight they may face if they do make it into government," said Mr Robinson.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Conservative sources claim the idea first came from Mr Osborne and that he had a preliminary meeting with Mr Clarke some time ago.

Mr Cameron said the two would be "working together as part of a team" and said he was "delighted" Mr Clarke was joining the shadow cabinet.

"Everyone knows that he's a very big figure. He's got great experience, he was an excellent chancellor of the exchequer, he'll bring a lot of experience to the team and he'll make up part of what will be the best economic team in Britain," Mr Cameron said.

Pro-European

Mr Osborne denied suggestions he would be overshadowed by Mr Clarke and told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the former chancellor would strengthen the Conservative economic team.

He added: "I've been talking to him pretty constantly for the last year, I actually was the person who first approached him and talked to him about getting more fully involved in the shadow cabinet."

Cameron and Clarke have agreed to disagree on Europe
Nick Robinson
BBC political editor

Mr Clarke was also backed by shadow foreign secretary William Hague, who described him on Sunday as "a very talented politician with a great deal to contribute in the present economic climate".

However, the idea of Mr Clarke's return had been attacked by euro-sceptics Norman Tebbit, John Redwood and Tory donor, Sir Stuart Wheeler.

Mr Clarke's pro European views - in particular, his support for Britain scrapping the pound and joining the Euro - have alienated him from large parts of his party.

VAT support

His pro-European views are given as the reason for his failed leadership bids in 1997, 2001 and 2005, despite strong public support.

The Eurosceptic UK Independence Party said Mr Clarke's appointment marked "the death of any pretence at Conservative Party EU scepticism".

Nick Robinson said: "The issue of Europe is still a live one since some now argue that the current economic crisis demonstrates the case for the euro. Also, the Tories are opposed to the Lisbon EU Treaty which Clarke has backed."

HAVE YOUR SAY
I'm not a Tory supporter or voter but Ken Clarke is one of the few politicians I trust and like
Ben Platt, Liverpool

However, he added that Conservative sources had indicated Mr Clarke and his party leader had "agreed to disagree" on the issue.

Mr Clarke also suggested cutting VAT to 15% before Chancellor Alistair Darling announced the measure in November's pre-budget report.

However, he later criticised the circumstances in which the government implemented the change, insisting that it could not fund the move.

The policy has since been branded "a criminal waste of money" by Mr Cameron.

But Mr Clarke, MP for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire since 1970, remains popular with the public, who recognise him for his love of cigars, jazz and classic cars.

And the move is seen by some as a counter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's decision to bring back Lord Mandelson as Business Secretary in October.

His appointment coincided with a boost to Labour's previously flagging poll ratings.

Mr Clarke brings a wealth of experience to the shadow cabinet, having served as Health, Education and Home Secretaries, as well as chancellor, between 1988 and 1997.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Guardian Unlimited What the newspaper commentators say today ... - 3 hrs ago
Asian Age Ken Clarke back in Tory shadow team - 7 hrs ago
Telegraph David Cameron 'proud' to welcome back Ken Clarke - 8 hrs ago
Glasgow Herald Cameron confident as big beast Clarke returns to Tory front line - 15 hrs ago
The Scotsman Cameron restores Clarke to Tories' line-up - 16 hrs ago



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