4 Sep 2012

The meaning of Ken

There were recent indications that Ken Clarke was quite accepting that he would probably go to the backbenches and wasn’t going to kick up rough if he was sent there.

The reports that he’s being kept on as a minister without portfolio advising on economic policy and other matters has been reported as a sign of the faith that the PM has in his judgement.

I would say it is at least as much a sign of the chancellor’s nervousness that he doesn’t want Ken Clarke – still a formdiable voice on economic matters – criticising the government’s economic strategy from outside the tent.

I should emphasise that the former justice secretary is pretty “on message” on the deficit reduction plan. But where might he be in a couple of months’ time?

Backing Vince Cable in a Cable/Osborne dispute in public? Probably not. But backing some cries from his old friends in business or the city for tougher cuts or asking for faster movement on employment law/planning changes?

Just possible. And the man the crowd booed at the Paralympics last night, George Osborne, doesn’t want a wild and free roaming big beast undermining his credibility.

In the “man or mouse” debate, I think quite a few Tory backbenchers will see Ken Clarke’s retention as a score in the “mouse” column.

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