Ken Clarke: No Future
2 September 2005
‘ENTER THE BIG BEAST!’
- front page Daily Mail headline about Ken Clarke.
For some reason, any discussion of the Tory leadership contest and the party’s chances in the next election calls to mind a mentally subnormal Death Row inmate convicted of murder with 17 witnesses, damning CCTV footage and incontrovertible forensic evidence being led to the Texas Penitentiary lethal injection suite discussing their plans to write a hit sitcom, eg.
‘People gunna see ahm innocent! An’ when ahm acquitted ahm gunna write me one of them sitcoms, yuh know, like Seinfeld or that Will an’ Grace? An’ ahm gunna make me a million dollars, easy, wit’ HBO an’ Paramount givin’ me money an’ girls an’ all! Just gotta get me a pardon in the next five minutes. An’ learn tuh read an’ write…’
In other words: it ain’t going to happen.
Maybe we’re being too harsh. The current unpopularity of New Labour certainly gives the Tories a good chance, but we can’t help but feel two factors will preclude any real Tory electoral gains in the next election. They are:
- Gordon Brown
- The way they seem to have become about as relevant to life in 2005 as sagger makers’ bottom knockers.
Even Tories can’t seem to be bothered to argue about Tory-type issues these days. If you’re anything like us, it’s probably not that long since you’ve been hopelessly pissed in a pub and decided to go off a ludicrous political rant, eg.:
‘Right, what they should do, right, is close all the public schools and private schools and independent schools and fucking grammar schools and make these over privileged Fauntleroy bastards go to comprehensives! Yeah! No… they shouldn’t close them down - they should LOCK ALL THE DOORS AND BLOW THEM UP! Yeah!’
… and no-one will have bothered to tell you you’re talking crap.
It’s almost as though Tories have given up the fight these days. Fox hunting, Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, political correctness, the death penalty… this contributor hasn’t had a good drunken argument with a Tory for yonks. If this carries on, there’ll hardly be much point in going for a drink with sales reps ever again.
Thus it’s clear that the Tories need something to rejuvenate the party and Conservatism in the UK in general. Could that thing be ‘Big Beast’ Ken Clarke? He is after all everyone’s favourite Tory - apart from Churchill, Alec Douglas Home, Chris Patten, Thatcher, Tony Blair and Jim Davidson.
This week Clarke announced that he’ll stand for the Tory leadership. And he’s a strong candidate. It turns out that in the 2001 Tory leadership race he was the candidate that Labour most feared. He’s recently modified his stance on Europe, criticising the Euro despite his broad overall support for Europe. He’s also a confident and articulate speaker, lacking the air of uncertainty that surrounds most senior Tories, who all appear to be waiting for a focus group to tell them whether they should be allowing gay marriage or bringing back the birch.
But it’s here, with actual policies, that the Tories look a bit stuck. This is a serious question: what policies could the Tories conceivably put forward in five years that will genuinely capture the public imagination?
Compare the situation now with the days of Margaret Thatcher, when she actually changed British society with some radical policies, ranging from selling off state-owned industries and bashing the unions to selling off council houses and bashing the Argies.
In 2010 the unions are likely to be just as cowed as they are now. Privatisation/PFI won’t have got any more popular, especially crap customer service from former public utilities. The issue of owning your own home has become the issue of what ordinary people do in the face of mental property prices.
Alongside a lack of obvious Tory ‘causes’, there’s also the fact that New Labour is firmly encamped on their turf. New Labour may be incompetent and media-obsessed, but it’s hard to disagree, at least in principle, with ideas like a two-pronged approach to crime, i.e. punishing AND rehabilitating offenders - or ‘tough on crime and the causes of crime’. Who’d seriously argue against the fact that some crime is born out of desperation, fucked up lives and poverty, and some crime (much of the same crime) is the result of simple opportunism: choosing to do whatever the fuck you want and getting away with it?
More importantly for the Tories, how is ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ really much different to the overall Tory stance of tougher sentences, but also with rehabilitation for offenders? No Conservative government has seriously argued *against* rehabilitation per se. It just doesn’t make sense.
In almost any area of policy - crime, education, health, etc. - New Labour and the Conservatives have much in common. Take education. The Tories are sceptical of comprehensive education, but can’t do without it. New Labour supports the comprehensive system, but also some sort of selective system running alongside it. They’re not exactly at polar opposites.
All of which is horrible news for Ken Clarke.