They say David Cameron is going to rid himself of that troublesome minister, Ken Clarke, next May. Clarke embarrassed the government with his swipe at Theresa May and her "laughable" take on the Human Rights Act. It was a bad move on two counts: one, May, the Home Secretary, is senior to him; two, the Act is deeply unpopular with the Tories.
I took sides with the kitten heels rather than the Hush Puppies in that catfight. Ken Clarke got the facts right, and Theresa May didn't; but May knew what Tory voters wanted. When it comes to appealing to the true-blue squad, she's the one for you.
But a party leader, even one who won't face an election for at least four years, needs to keep his eyes on potential voters as well as loyal party members. He needs to ask "how will this person play to the public?", not just the faithful. Which is why Dave should hang on for dear life to Ken Clarke.
I speak as a former Deputy Editor of the New Statesman: Ken's so likable, so real and reassuring, even the Labourites I dealt with loved him. Time and again, as the Conservatives elected yet another loser as a leader, I would hear Labour heave a collective sigh of relief. Thank goodness, they hadn't got Ken to bat for them. He would give New Labour a run for their money. He would win over a public weary of spinning bullies. It never happened – "Red Ken" is too soggy liberal for the hard-core Conservative – and Blair and Brown benefited from a limp Opposition.
Dave shouldn't make the same mistake as his predecessors. For those outside the Conservative tent (and for many within it) the men and women at the top of the Tory tree look like stuffed shirts and toffs. Not so our Ken. He's big and flawed (remember his links to British American Tobacco?) but he looks like he's got red blood and eats red meat. There's nothing fey or elitist about this Nottinghamshire lad. That bluff charm of his works wonders – even on Margaret Thatcher, whom many claim he betrayed by asking her to step down, says he always spoke from the heart, not from an agenda.
There's really no one like him on the Right – except Boris, of course. Another reason why Cameron must hold on to Ken. Without Ken Clarke, the Tories will boast only one charming maverick with a broad appeal. That would earn the Mayor of London all the attention, and the gratitude from ordinary people who would think he represented them better than those snooty professional politicians.
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