Clarke on the Tories: ‘A bit silly’

By Blaine Williams

Ken Clarke’s recent return to the shadow cabinet has embarrassed the Conservative leadership after a report surfaced in which he called the party’s stance on Europe “a bit silly”.

He also warned that president Obama would not want to work with Britain if it is run by a “right-wing nationalist”.

The comments were made by the now shadow business secretary in a speech at Nottingham University and reported by the website www.publicservice.co.uk.

In the speech he claimed the Tories were still “firmly Eurosceptic,” although it was a now “harmless” brand of Euro-scepticism that was “a bit silly sometimes”.

He has also added fuel to the fire over Barack Obama’s comments where he called David Cameron “a lightweight”.

Mr Clarke said Obama would not want to work with a “right-wing nationalist” who is increasingly “isolationist” on Europe.

Obama would look more towards France and Germany than Britain, Mr Clarke warned.

The article reports Mr Clarke saying: “A lot will depend on relations with Europe, because Obama doesn’t want his strongest European ally led by a rightwing nationalist.

“He wants them to be a key player inside Europe, and he’ll start looking at whoever is in Germany or France if we start being isolationist.

“I think the need to be working with Obama will influence my party on Europe.

“It is still firmly Eurosceptic but it’s now moderate, harmless Eurosceptism. It’s a bit silly sometimes, like which group do you join in the European parliament, but full-blooded stuff like renegotiating the treaty of accession is as dead as a dodo,” he continued.

“We’ve got lots of ideas on European policy on energy, security, relations with Russia, climate change, all that kind of thing [but] somebody like me is far more relaxed about all that [and if the Tories] get into office the pressure of the American alliance will make them more European.”

These comments have been jumped on by Labour which claims a fissure has been exposed in the ranks of the Tories and a weakness in Cameron’s ability to lead the country.

Caroline Flint, Europe minister, said: “Ken Clarke is absolutely right to warn David Cameron that his European policy would only serve to isolate Britain from the US.

“It’s a straightforward test for David Cameron: give up your policy on Europe, as Ken Clarke says, or give up the special relationship.

“Tory policy on Europe is ‘crackpot’, ‘dotty’ and ‘frankly absurd’, as Ken has repeatedly said.”

The Tories say that his comments have been blown out of all proportion and the party is all singing from the hymn sheet Mr Cameron gives them.

A Conservative spokesman said: “This is an absurd interpretation of what Ken Clarke said.

“He was not referring to David Cameron but talking in entirely hypothetical terms – he has never and would never describe David Cameron in that way.

“As far as the position on Europe is concerned, Ken’s views are well known, but, as he said when he was appointed, he accepts that the Conservative party has a settled view on European matters and he will not oppose the direction David Cameron will set on European policies in the future.”

Mr Clarke was controversially appointed as the new shadow business secretary in the recent reshuffle in an attempt to bolster the Tories on the economic issue and to try and out-manoeuvre business secretary Lord Mandelson.