Cabinet Reshuffle: Ken Clarke to have input on the economy

Tory MPs delighted by new role for a winning Tory Chancellor from the 1990s. But what will George say?

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:59 ON Tue 4 Sep 2012

JAZZ-loving, Hush Puppy-wearing Ken Clarke could be the surprise winner out of the early changes in David Cameron's reshuffle by taking a new role of minister without portfolio after relinquishing the Justice Secretary portfolio. Crucially, it looks like Clarke will have input into the Treasury and strategy over the economy.

Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, is reporting that Tory MPs are already celebrating that Clarke will have an economic remit. Clarke is rumoured to have turned down Cameron's offer of another Whitehall Department for the role.

Ken may be regarded as too pro-Europe by many Tory MPs, but even Tory right- wingers rate his commonsense on the economy and recall how he handed Labour a golden legacy of booming growth after being Chancellor under John Major from 1993 to 1997.

Freed of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, Clarke was able to cut unemployment, interest rates and inflation. He reduced the basic rate of Income Tax from 25 to 23 per cent, reduced government's share of GDP, and reduced the budget deficit from £50.8 billion in 1993 to £15.5 billion in 1997.

Clarke undoubtedly will be keen on measures to boost growth and can be expected to press more tax cuts for business on Chancellor George Osborne, who as predicted stays in charge of the Treasury.

Clarke is one of the oldest hands in the government and his experience will be more widely available as minister without portfolio. He is also recognised by his critics as a big hitter, and will give the limp government performance on the economy some extra punch, particularly on TV and radio shows such as Question TimeNewsnight and the Today programme.

The danger for Clarke is that Osborne will seek to sideline him. This has happened before to cabinet members with no clear ministerial responsibility and must have been weighed up by Clarke before he accepted the brief.

Clarke will be based at the Cabinet Office, so he will have easy access to the Prime Minister. Just how much weight he carries in cabinet will depend on which cabinet committees he sits on, particularly the one on the economy.

Cameron was spotted slipping into the Commons early this morning to continue meeting those being shuffled in the privacy of his private office at Westminster.

Early moves included sacking Baroness Warsi as party chairman, Cheryl Gillan as Welsh Secretary and Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman while appointing Andrew Mitchell as chief whip. The former international secretary, a rich banker, was known as 'Thrasher' at public school, and will be expected to tighten discipline after the rebellion over Lords reform.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith are both staying in their current jobs. IDS was offered Justice but turned it down. More changes are on the way - watch this space. · 

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Clarke has two insurmountable obstacles - Boy George and Petulant Nick. Don't count on Ken staying in post for too long - he will inevitably be at loggerheads with Boy George before the day is out - Petulant Nick, being the complete nonentity that he is, will just shuffle off into a corner to sulk when Ken quietly tells him to grow up!