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Lazy Dave needs to keep an eye on lazy Ken

Posted on 23 March 2009 | 11:03am

When Ken Clarke was Chancellor, civil servants (and the Prime Minister) used to complain you could never get hold of him at the weekends, and that he would often spend much of Monday travelling back from his constituency without a mobile phone. However irritating this was for some, it all helped build up the image of Ken as a nice, affable, real person amid the boring grey suits, with his hush puppies, his smokes, his love for jazz , football and bird-watching all adding favouraly to the human mix.

I’m all in favour of politicians having a hinterland, and Ken has more than most. But I think there is a problem with the basic workrate of the shadow front bench, from David Cameron down, and I have a hunch that this, rather than a big ideological divide, is what lies behind Ken’s weekend comments on inheritance tax.

It provoked a few small headlines (compared with the raging infernoes we had to deal with in Opposition whenever a frontbencher said something a little out of line on tax) about the Tories being in turmoil over tax. Ken said what he said on TV, out went a clarifying statement from Central Office, followed by a sort of clarifying statement from Ken.

But my hunch is that rather than revealing a big split, he was making it up as he went along. The key quotes which caused the mini-flurry start with the words ‘I don’t think we are going round any longer saying this [planned inheritance tax cuts] is something we are going to do the moment we take power.’ Note the words ‘I don’t think’. Not a good start. ‘Going round …’  … getting vaguer and vaguer.

It is hard to imagine Ken did not think the question might come up. So why did he not have a clearer answer? Answer, possibly, because he is still not quite sure what they are meant to be saying. Any why is that? Because the shadow cabinet under Dave is not pinning down detail of policy. When they go on the TV, they expect to be able to get away with a couple of clips playing into whatever anti-Labour story is running at the time. They are not boring down into the inconsinstencies and inadequacies of their own policy positions.

In a day or two, this little flurry will be forgotten. But in an election campaign, what happened yesterday could have been of serious significance. Ken’s appeal to the public is exactly what could make him a liability for Cameron. But it is Cameron, in the end, who has to face up to these difficult policy decisions and get them fixed so they are clear. If his own shadow cabinet doesn’t know what his plans are if he becomes PM, then what chance do the public have?

Talking of little flurries that will be quickly forgotten, apparently Mail on Sunday ‘left-wing’ columnist Suzanne Moore has resigned from the New Statesman in protest at my guest editing of the magazine last week. This came as a shock to the real editor, who was seemingly unaware she had a position to resign from.

I have not read her reasoning, as I do not allow the Mail on Sunday in the house, on the same grounds as I don’t allow the dog to crap on the carpet. But I see from one of the other papers that she felt she had to resign from whatever position it was that she thought she held because this was an important principle, as the Statesman was opposed to the Iraq war.

Do we assume from this that she supports every policy position outlined by the right-wing rag in which she now peddles her wares? All those yummy celeb cellulite pictures, all the MMR coverage that helped bring about measles, all the attacks on state schools and hospitals and the attempts to portray Britain as a basket case third world country in which to take a walk down the High Street is to risk being mugged and raped by black, benefit-cheating, lesbian, disabled asylum seekers – oh how firm must be the principles she is standing up for? Oh how warm will be the glow she gets when Mail Obergruppenfuhrer Paul Dacre pats that lovely head of hair and says how brave she is to take such a principled stand.

  • Ciaran

    Well, unlike Suzanne Moore, who you justifiably shred into 1,000 strips, I think you are letting the Tories off here.

    The real issue isn’t whether Ken Clarke is lazy or not, but about what policy is best for the country. Clarke is right when he impllies that a £3billion backhander to the already very well off is not the right policy. In fact it is the completely wrong one.

    Labour cannot fight the election on the character of Cameron or Clarke, because, let’s be honest, people don’t like Gordon much. he has to acknowledge that and then ask who do they want to run the country – the Tories who get policy wrong because they have the wrong set of values to begin with or Labour who will tyake their side in the argument.

    But to do that Labour needs to start acting across the wider sphere of public service reform and reclaim the centre ground.

  • Toby D\’Olier

    The last paragraph, tragic state of affairs though it is, still made me laugh out loud.
    As for the MOS, surely at less than 2 pounds (I believe; not having ever actually bought it) it compares very favourably with other brands of Kitty-litter and rabbit hutch liner?

  • Andrew

    a good riposte – I picked up said paper in a coffee house and did find the pet-lefty-on-the-Mail thing rather spiked her guns from the off

  • Rob Atkins

    You have a lot to say about the Opposition, Mr Campbell, but you neglect the simple reality that it wasn’t the Opposition who got the country into this mess, and it isn’t the Opposition that is destroying the economy so quickly that even most informed commentators are having to make virtually daily revisions upwards of their worst-case scenarios for public borrowing.

    I would rather hear your views on the decision (is it a devcision ?) to postpone the Public Spending Review that was due to happen this summer. Should it be postponed, and if so why ? It would appear to me that accurate projections of borrowing, and concrete proposals to balance spending against this, are an essential obligation on the Government in power.

    Is there something Mr Brown doesn’t want us to know ? New Labour fooled us once Mr Campbell – we’ve had our eyes opened to the realities of the mismanagement of the economy, and we won’t be fooled again.

  • Fran McMahon

    What seems incredible about Suzanne Moore’s ‘stand’ is that she seems oblivious to the point about doing it in the Mail on Sunday. Is my memory right that that is the paper where some of the so called left wing people you castigated for sending their kids to private schools sounded off about it? I don’t see how anyone who takes the Mail’s money can claim to have a left wing bone in their body. Good luck with the blog, and when is your In The Loop preview appearing?

  • Alison Stead

    Just to show I read to the end — I laughed out loud at your description of the Mail. By the way I was in a cab recently and the driver said you had once told him you would only get in the cab if he let you throw his copy of the Mail in the bin. This should become standard policy for all cab users

  • Ian Davies

    Rob get a life and chill out.
    I thought the reason Suzie Moore resigned was due to the fact she was a Man City supporter!!

  • Adam

    Your ‘Lazy Dave’ tag is totally pathetic. I see a man who has had to balance helping to care for his elder son with the huge responsiblity of reviving the Conservative Party.
    He has been, and will continue to be, hugely successful. The evidence for this was again starkly illustrated in the Sunday Times where he was shown to be more popular amongst members of the Unite union than Gordon Brown.
    Lazy Alastair will have to work harder than a pathetic tag if he wants to avoid his party wandering back into their comfortable wilderness of class hatred, hypocrisy and regressive psychosis.

  • liz

    Great blog, made me laugh out loud and provoked huge amusement here, even my true blue tory colleague thought it was amusing and even more interestingly, he even agreed with your thoughts about the Mail !! Unfortunately though, as is demonstrated by one of the comments to you blog some people really do believe everything the paper spouts out.
    I recently had a puppy and went through the usual house training stage and found that I ran out of paper pretty quickly in the first few weeks. I asked my friends for their old newspapers and one (who shall remain nameless but she knows who she is ! ) gave me a pile of old Daily Mails. It wasn’t until I was putting them on the floor for the pup’s use that I became aware of the depressing content of the paper. I couldn’t help but stop every few minutes and pick up a sheet from the said rag to read. I quickly gave up reading any of it however when I realised it made me feel quite shocked and angry at the rubbish it was spouting and the way that rubbish was presented. From that point onwards I refused to even put it on the floor for my puppy, I stuck the pile of papers straight in the bin, inspite of my green credentials I thought it was even too toxic to be recycled !

  • Alina Palimaru

    Indeed, your rationale for not allowing Mail on Sunday in your house made me laugh to tears!

    I read the piece in question online and my eyes were bleeding at her duplicity. My pain was then alleviated by the article published by John Rentoul re Tory policy being as clear as mud. But then my blood pressure went up again, realizing how unbelievably weak Labour defence is and how their challenge of the Tory platform is unjustiafiably absent.

    I obviously second everything you wrote about the Tories’ vague positions. I suspect you will keep making such comments quite often, as the Tories lack a sharp intellectual framework.

    We also notice that from their cry-baby responses whenever they’re challenged. What does that say to you about their preparedness to assume leadership of the UK? If such an event befell Britain… (you fill in the blanks!).

  • Alina Palimaru

    Also, while we are still at the ripples that The New Statesman’s last issue sent through the press, I should also remark the incessant media self-coverage on this matter. All the rhapsodizing about who’s bitterer on the NS is so irresponsible and distorts the important angle of this story and its original intent: to start a conversation on the real issues that people care about. There has been little, if any, coverage on substance, while the vast majority of the self-absorbed journalists decided it was more important to advance an independent voice (however meaninglessly angry) in pursuit of self-interest and career opportunism. “Oh, look at me! The proud owner of the crackpot theory of the week regarding The New Statesman cover picture!” “No, no! Pay attention to me… bloviating away on the headlines, but clueless on content!”

  • Emilianna

    Moore’s complete disregard of reality and her assumption that the public lacks the simplest ability to make logical connection reminds me of the way the United States’ Limbaugh, Beck and O’Reilly operate. It would be to the detriment of the British people were your media be overtaken by charismatic fear-and-hate mongers who are devoid of professional ethic.

    AC, although I criticised your constant disapproval of the media, I do want to thank you for pointing out errors, lies and appalling behaviour.

    As far as the Tories go, I can only concur. Another commentator here today mentioned people’s dislike of GB which is too bad. Surely, he’s not so relived that voters will support the Tories no matter what their platform is — or lack thereof.

  • paul robinson

    I do take the Daily mail and mos as it is best to know what the enemy are doing at all times, but it does encourage one when a load of vouchers in post getting 50% off

  • Tracey Cheetham

    I have been reliably informed that the Daily Mail is owned by Viscount Rothermere, who is a non-domicile, so he pays no tax in the UK. He is domiciled in France, that makes the owner of the Daily Mail a tax-dodging French man! Made me smile. Also Daily Mail is owned through a series of tax havens… Comedian Mark Thomas is organising a demonstration about this startling hypocrisy; info here:

    Regarding Ms Moore, why would anyone with ‘left-wing’ principles want to appear in the DM?????

  • Jamie

    Fantastic post, Mr Campbell. This blog has become quite unmissable.

  • Charles M


    I agree with all of your comments regarding the Daily Mail. I personally think a lot of the papers are guilty of this kind of behaviour however the mail is the worst of the lot by some distance. I find it hard to believe that people actually read it as if you believed everything it wrote you would have a very insecure addled grip on reality

    I think you read to much into Ken Clarke however. This really is a non story. The real story today is yet another MP ( Mcnulty ) and the way he seems to think it is acceptable for the taxpayer to commit to maintain his parents and their standard of living ( see Jacqui Smith and Derek Conway for further details ).
    Cameron has shown he can make tough decisions – he can be accused of many things but I do not think he is indecisive or lazy. He rides his bike when he could be sitting in the car that is following him!

    Clarke was never known for robustly following any line. The sad thing here is that nothing in the way the media have behaved on this issue would ever encourage a politician to ever speak his mind and be honest. The slightest intentional or unitentional deviation produces headlines such as this.