Monday, 19 January 2009

Will Clarke change Tories' Europe stance?

A dramatic reshuffling in the Tory shadow cabinet is taking effect in the UK today, and the biggest story is the pro-Europe politician Ken Clarke being brought back to the front-bench. Clarke, who has a long and controversial history in UK politics, is sure to rile the Eurosceptics of the Tory Party. Now the question on many people's minds is this - will Clarke's appointment reignite the old civil war within the Tory Party over Europe?

The former chancellor, who has lost elections to lead the Tories three times, is being brought on as the shadow business secretary. Under the British system of government, the opposition parties form "shadow governments," which advise the public on what they would do instead of the ruling party if they were elected. Though they have no actual power, they help shape the policies of the party on which they campaign in elections.

Clarke's pro-Europe views are well-known. He even favours Britain joining the Euro. However Clarke has insisted that he won't rock the boat over Europe, telling the British media, "I accept that the party has come to a settled view on European matters, and I will not oppose the direction David will set on European policies in the future."

However being the "big beast" of Conservative politics that he is, Clarke may have a hard time keeping his pro-Europe feelings to himself. It is thought that his former tenure as a chancellor could undermine the position of the current Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne - who wasn't even born when Clarke entered parliament in 1970.

Even more interestingly, Clarke will now be pitted directly against another prominent British politician in European matters, Lord Mandelson, the Labour business secretary. Mendhelson was called back from his prominent position in Brussels representing Britain in the EU in a surprising gamble by Gordon Brown last year. Both Mandelson and Clarke remain very controversial in Britain, and interestingly, both have significant experience in European matters.

Already Clarke's appointment is generating a storm of protest. Last week the Eurosceptic Tory politician Lord Tebbit warned Cameron against bringing Clarke back into government, and some donors are reportedly considering withdrawing their financial support to the party over the appointment. Such is the extent of Eurosceptic feeling within the Tory party.

But despite the way Clarke has ruffled feathers amongst the Tory big-whigs, his rough style remains highly popular with a vast swathe of the British public. At a time when it's hard to find any solidly pro-Europe politician in the front benches of British politics, Clarke's presence in the limelight will be interesting to watch.


Grahnlaw said...

Britain has shaped and been shaped by European events since the dawn of history.

Having two persons on the front benches who actually know something about Europe can hardly be called an excess.

Tian said...

I agree with Grahnlaw, maybe now finally we can have some people with principles on the front bench who are realistic about the future of Britain and won't pander to nationalist self-defeating British pride!