Magazine article The Spectator

The Appeal of Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

The Appeal of Clarke

Article excerpt

Let us imagine that there are some Spectator readers who are members of the Tory party and who have not yet voted in the leadership contest, which concludes next week. They have been waiting for this magazine, in all its awful wisdom, to pronounce. Do we dare advise them, these faithful few?

Let us begin by saying that neither Ken Clarke nor lain Duncan Smith is a bad man, or, indeed, a bad candidate to be leader. To judge by their campaigns, they seem to agree on a great deal. They both have plans to reform the NHS. Neither thinks much of New Labour's efforts to tackle the problems of British education.

They seem to agree that the Tories need to recapture the middle ground of politics, to appear more clearly to be a party not actuated by prejudice. Mr Duncan Smith has latterly announced that he has changed his mind on Section 28, which must be slightly baffling to some of his supporters in the chaste cloisters of, say, the Daily Telegraph. The intention must be to shift his position towards the more tolerant, pragmatic, Clarke-ish end of things, so that both men end this seemingly interminable campaign curvetting around the same patch of ground. That does not mean that the election of either man would have an identical effect on politics. On the contrary, victory by either will provoke a hailstorm of abuse, though the slant will be different in either case.

A Duncan Smith victory will be easily caricatured as a victory for Chingford Man. Words such as `Poujadiste', `hanger', `flogger' and `Norman Tebbit' will be used, and all the unfortunate abusive language of the six-week campaign will be disinterred, as evidence of a Tory civil war. And if Mr Clarke wins, there will be a symmetrical volley. The New Labour-ish press will discover that they are far more offended by his relationship with the tobacco industry than they have hitherto divulged. Above all, every effort will be made to show that a Clarke leadership is hopelessly vitiated by the question of Europe, and that the Tories have turned once again into a rabble. Both men therefore carry risks and advantages.

The advantage of lain Duncan Smith is that he will keep the show on the road. He will have no difficulty uniting the party on Europe, and he may turn out to be a farsighted choice, who wins the hearts of Middle Britain by his bluntness and a lack of pretension that contrasts well with Blair. Those who know him see an amiable, thoughtful and principled man, far too sophisticated to conform to his right-wing stereotype. …

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