Tory peer Ken Clarke says a Labour government led by Sir Keir Starmer would give Conservatives a chance to ‘rest’

11 January 2023, 16:40 | Updated: 11 January 2023, 16:44

Ken Clarke has said a Labour to have a turn in government would let the Tories rest
Ken Clarke has said a Labour to have a turn in government would let the Tories rest. Picture: LBC/Getty

By Kit Heren

Conservative grandee Ken Clarke has said a Labour government would give his party time to have a "rest" after more than a decade in power.

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Speaking to Andrew Marr on LBC, former Chancellor and Home Secretary Lord Clarke compared the current situation to when Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, after 18 years of Tory government.

Asked by Andrew how he would feel about a Labour leader government led by Sir Keir Starmer, Lord Clarke said: "Well I’d be disappointed, because if I had a vote, which as a peer I don’t, I would have voted for the Conservatives.

Ken Clarke on how he'd feel if Labour under Sir Keir Starmer won a general election

"But I’d feel as I felt when Tony Blair took over. I felt very angry because I was out of office, and the government, which I thought had a very successful economic policy had been defeated," he said.

"It was entirely predictable and I blamed my own side for it, the stupid warfare we’d been having over Europe and Maastricht."

Ken Clarke says it would be 'farcical' to replace Rishi Sunak at this stage

Listen to the full interview on Global Player tonight from 6pm

Speaking about Mr Blair, Lord Clarke said: “What I felt was that he was the person with the capability and personality to be Prime Minister and not disgrace the country.

"And it’s probably about time the social democrats had a turn and give us a rest."

Kenneth Clarke said that the Tories should not depose Rishi Sunak if the local elections do not go well
Kenneth Clarke said that the Tories should not depose Rishi Sunak if the local elections do not go well. Picture: Getty

Lord Clarke said he takes both PM Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir seriously as party leaders but that "neither has charisma."

He added: "If the British reject both of them… then the threat to our democracy is very high. I’m cheered up by the fact we’ve got Rishi Sunak facing Keir Starmer."

But the Tory grandee said he was "not convinced" that Sir Keir has made his party ready for government yet.

Ken Clarke said Labour should have a turn in power
Ken Clarke said Labour should have a turn in power. Picture: Getty

Lord Clarke added that Nigel Farage's right-wing Reform party is a threat to the Conservatives - but that the Tories should not veer further right in response.

"The vast bulk of the public simply want a competent, successful government that can demonstrate that it really can tackle problems seriously and produce an improvement," he said.

"And the centre ground is wanting to feel some confidence in the government again. So Reform is a danger. But don't start making stupid point-scoring off the French speeches to try to win Nigel Farage's voters back."

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage. Picture: Getty

Asked if the Tories could depose Prime Minister Rishi Sunak if the local elections go poorly, Lord Clarke said that would further damage the party after a "farcical" 2022.

He said: "Well, we're going to start looking comic... farcical as well as incompetent.

"And particularly if we do so with a silly argument about can we have somebody who will cut taxes to cheer up the more prosperous middle classes."

But Lord Clarke added: "After 2022, I'm not going to say anything couldn't happen. The events became farcical. They did. And unbelievable in 2022."

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

In a wide-ranging interview, the Tory peer told Andrew that the government should not bow to striking workers' demands so that they are not incentivised to walk out more.

He said: "This sounds very harsh, I know, but it's the only way to stop us slipping back to where we used to be, where striking was a matter of habit for any sensible person in the public sector in the 70s and 80s.

Read more: Grant Shapps introduces controversial anti-strike legislation to curb public sector walkouts

"You've got to have people go back saying, that wasn't worth it. It's cost me too much, it'll take me ages to get that back.

"You can't have a situation where go on strike and you assume you're going to get more than the pay body offered you or the settlement seemed to be."

Lord Clarke warned that "most people" would suffer a drop in living standards in the years to come.

"It's going to take a few years to attain [higher living standards]. So the government's got to take on board that it has got to do some tough and if necessarily unpopular things. It's going to be unpopular.

"Most people's living standards are going to fall at the margin, because you've got a combination of high inflation and a recession at the same time. So everybody's living standards are going to fall and that's going to cause hardship to some people.

"And you must protect those people, the most vulnerable."

Ken Clarke warned that 'most people' would suffer a drop in living standards
Ken Clarke warned that 'most people' would suffer a drop in living standards. Picture: Getty

Lord Clarke called on the government to improve people's living standards by encouraging growth in the economy through planning reforms and "[doing] something about our skills problem".

"The trouble with all that is it takes a few years, two or three years before it starts to work through," he added.

"And the best hope you can have by election time, I would say to the government is... people can see... they don't like some of the things you did, but you do appear to be on top of it."

He added that voters could "forget about" tax cuts, despite reports that former PM Boris Johnson was floating the possibility in a speech on Tuesday night.

But Lord Clarke a prominent Europhile, added that Brexit was "the biggest cause of our economic problems".

Ken Clarke was a prominent opponent of Brexit
Ken Clarke was a prominent opponent of Brexit. Picture: Getty

"We should have a closer free trade arrangement with [the EU]," he said.

"Everybody just doesn't want to talk now about reversing political Brexit. But we should not be erecting new trade barriers...

"We should have the most comprehensive removal of trade barriers by negotiation between us because we can't seek free trade with the rest of the world, but say we are going to keep putting up new barriers to trade with our most important market."

Lord Clarke went on: "Brexit's the biggest cause of our economic problems... The Bank of England estimates 4%, 5% GDP down, continuing problems.

"It's done huge damage to our trade, made us much less attractive to foreign investment. Previously we attracted investors because we were the most business friendly place to invest inside the single market to get totally free access to that biggest, wealthiest free trade bloc in the world.

"Now we sit on the edge of it and people like Jacob Rees-Mogg say we should keep putting fresh barriers up against it while we go off and get trade deals with New Zealand or something. It's absurd."