The Daily Telegraph in its leader today raises important points about Kenneth Clarke and his leadership bid.
There are three serious anxieties which must be allayed if he is to become its leader, it says, but we need detain ourselves only with one:
Famously, he remains a committed Europhile. His blithe dismissals notwithstanding, the rejection of the European constitution and the travails of the euro have not halted the project of ever-closer union, but merely driven it underground.That is the central point. Such is the momentum of integration that, for it to continue, a British government just has to do nothing and the project will roll on.
The recent brouhaha over clothes imports, or this week's news about mooted European rules preventing the deportation of terror suspects, demonstrate the lively and protean nature of the beast. Mr Clarke's recanting of his former support for British membership of the single currency is insufficient. Conservatives want to know not merely that a leader would not cede further sovereignty to Brussels, but which powers, if any, he would bring home. The former spokesman of Britain in Europe has a tough task ahead of him here.
A Conservative government under the leadership of Clarke would most certainly not take an aggressive stance with the EU, in demanding the return of powers to the UK. What we would seen as we have seen with the current Tory leadership, is that “Europe” would remain off the agenda, while the Party concentrated on those few domestic issues where some power remains with the British government.
Clarke himself, in his op-ed in the paper argues that "We have to be an effective and aggressive opposition which can take on and defeat not just Tony Blair but the man who will lead Labour into the next general election - Gordon Brown."
But much of the "opposition" to how we wish to run this country comes not from Tony Blair or his successor, but from "Brussels", which is our real government in the majority of policy areas. Unless Clarke is prepared to take this on, he is useless.
Even then, his approach is still flawed. We must halt the Liberal Democrat advance into the Tory core vote - and reverse it – he writes, and we must persuade more people to vote Conservative. "This is not just - or even primarily - winning back lost voters. It is offering a natural home in the Conservative Party to people who have never voted Conservative or even thought of doing so."
This, to say the least, is bizarre. There are six million voters out there who once voted Conservative and do so no longer. But Clarke knows that many of those were disillusioned by the Conservative stance on Europe. He will never recover them, so he wants to pitch for "people who have never voted Conservative or even thought of doing so". To do that, he will have to reinvent the Party, whence it will not longer be the Conservative Party, leaving the core vote disfranchised.
Perhaps that is the real objective, but the only beneficiaries will be New Labour – and UKIP. By that, and any other measure, Clarke would be an unmitigated disaster.