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One man, more than any other, stands between David Cameron and the Tories adopting a sensible, popular policy on Europe

Tim Montgomerie

Does a leopard change its spots? Does an Old Hush Puppy ever learn new tricks? Will Ken Clarke help David Cameron in his battle against the European Court in Strasbourg? As someone once said: no, no, no.

IMG_1514 In today's Mail I review how Ken Clarke has fought unflinchingly for his deep and genuine pro-European beliefs. I argue that he has put Europe before loyalty to party and country under at least three leaders:

"Ken Clarke plotted against Margaret Thatcher in the final days of her premiership; he could not bear the way she stood up to Europe and, when she was weak, did everything he could to get rid of her.

In the mid-1990s, he tried to make it as hard as possible for his boss, the then Prime Minister John Major, to offer the kind of patriotic Euroscepticism that the vast majority of the British people wanted.  Clarke’s most crucial intervention, in 1997, was to try to veto a Tory plan to hold two referendums — one on whether Britain should join the euro; the other on any future treaties that, like Maastricht, transferred major powers to Brussels. He feared that, if given the chance, the public would reject any extensions of Europe’s powers. John Major prevailed in securing a referendum on the Euro but at a gathering of senior ministers, Ken Clarke made it clear that the promise of a referendum on any future EU treaties would be made over his dead body.  The decision not to give the British public that chance to scupper Brussels’ ambitions was to have far-reaching consequences. Tony Blair, still then a nervous leader of the Opposition and desperate to win power, was forced to match Major’s referendum promise on the Euro. If the Conservatives had also offered the British people a veto on other European treaties, it is likely that Blair would have had to match that, too. Who knows, the subsequent Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon treaties (which eroded British sovereignty) might never have been passed during those 13 years of Labour rule.

Clarke’s third great act of disloyalty to a Conservative leader came in the late 1990s. William Hague was fighting a lonely — yet eventually successful — battle against Britain ever joining the Euro. It was a tough time for the Conservative Party and Hague had made his ‘keep the pound’ promise a central, defining feature of his campaign to save the party from electoral annihilation. Yet Ken Clarke once again put his love of Europe above party and appeared on a platform alongside Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, and argued for Britain to ditch the pound."

The fact is the Conservative Party is largely united on Europe. The vast majority of Tory MPs and activists, from the Prime Minister down, believe that unelected European judges and bureaucrats have too much power. Given the nature of the Coalition and the economic priorities, significant repatriation of powers may not be possible in this Parliament but we must prepare a manifesto for the next General Election that attempts to address that. So long as Ken Clarke is a significant player in the Conservative Party there is little chance of that happening. I sometimes wonder if he stays in government to prevent the party fulfilling its Eurosceptic instincts.

There is also the more immediate issue of Thursday's vote on the ECHR and votes for prisoners. Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, clearly opposes the wish of Tory MPs to assert the authority of the UK Parliament (see his unhelpful interview for today's Telegraph). His policy on prisons is already incredibly unpopular - and that's before the tabloids cover the stories of criminal acts committed by people on his community sentences. In this month's ConHome survey of the Tory grassroots - out tomorrow - there are now more members dissatisfied with Mr Clarke than satisfied. Time for him to go before he makes a fourth Tory leader's life impossible?


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