By Laura Miller
Ken Clarke has reportedly branded David Cameron's tax plan for married couples as tantamount to "social engineering", and an ill-advised lurch towards the policies of the "religious right" in America.
The heavy criticisms, apparently made at a seminar in Nottingham last month - before Mr Clarke joined the shadow cabinet - are likely to intensify rumours of major tensions in the Tory camp between the party leader and his new recruit.
According to website www.publicservice.co.uk, Mr Clarke, who dropped the married couples allowance during his time as chancellor, used the Nottingham seminar on Conservative policies to discuss his thoughts on social issues.
"I really don't think it's anything to do with politicians whether you [get married] and most of the younger people I know don't seem very keen on it. My view of Conservatism is that it's not for us to tell you [what to do through] the tax system - my wife didn't put up with me because I was getting £150 by way of tax allowance," Clarke said.
"This is social engineering for God's sake and when I joined the party we weren't in favour of it," he added.
Commenting at the same Nottingham event Mr Clarke was, however, supportive of Mr Cameron's "progressive conservatism" initiative, launched this month with think tank Demos.
"What I am in favour of is David [Cameron] setting an agenda pointing out all the social problems, the broken parts of cities, the level of family breakdown, poverty, social disorder and crime. I'm glad to see us getting into all that," he said.
But he was apparently concerned by the Tory party looking across the Atlantic for inspiration.
"The stuff I associate with the religious right in America, I think, is having too much influence on where we are," he is reported to have said.
Mr Clarke was brought back by Mr Cameron earlier this month to strengthen his financial team during the global economic crisis.