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Five questions for Ken on Europe

Mark Mardell | 10:55 UK time, Monday, 19 January 2009

Green shoots, an almost swinging mace and now Ken Clarke back on the front bench. In January ghosts of the past drift around Westminster. But will the return of the blokeish bruiser come to haunt the Conservative Party?

Ken ClarkeAs the biggest beast in John Major's cabinet he made sure the Eurosceptics did not win the Tory civil war. That only happened when the party was defeated and he departed. Specifically he made sure the option of joining the euro was not permanently closed off.

Some think Mr Hague has now unilaterally shut down the debate in a BBC interview. As Nick Robinson points out in his blog Europe is a real issue again.

I would be interested in hearing Mr Clarke's answer to some specific questions.

1) Does he still believe Britain should join the euro?

Doubtless he can argue that this is not on the government's agenda either so the opposition doesn't have to have a strong position and it's not a real political option. But principles are important in politics too so

2) Does he at least agree with the economists who last week argued that there should be a new debate about it?

If this is still too hypothetical he can't deny that there are elections to the European Parliament in June.

3) Does he agree with the current Conservative policy that, as the Lisbon reform treaty has not been backed by Irish voters, there should be a referendum in Britain too?

Mr Clarke has always been for Lisbon, and consistently against referendums on such matters, although not on the single currency itself. Read his demand for a free vote for front benchers.

After the elections the Conservatives will not sit with the largest block in the Parliament, the centre right EEP which includes the main ruling party in Germany, France and Italy but seek to form a new Eurosceptic group.

4) Does he think this is a sensible move because the Conservative Party has a different vision of Europe to the parties of Sarkozy and Merkel or does he support those Tory MEPs who want to stick in the EEP?

If the Conservatives win the general election they have said they will pull out of the social chapter and other EU social legislation and try to renegotiated a different relationship with the European Union.

5) As shadow business secretary does he think it is right to pull out of such EU directives and how easy would it be in practical terms?

Mr Clarke is old enough and wise enough to know how to give a non-committal answer to hypothetical questions but he's also constitutionally inclined to a level of frankness that can be awkward for his party. But there's another point. These aren't theoretical. Some or all of them will go "live", whether in the European elections, the general election or if there is a Conservative government.

It's not only a question of how he will answer now, but what he will do then. The ghost of the past may be the spectre of the future.

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