Clarke 'should return to frontbench'

Former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke should be recruited to the Tories' frontbench team, shadow deputy prime minister David Davis has urged.

Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservatives' annual conference in Blackpool, Mr Davis - who along with Mr Clarke contested the last party leadership election - suggested that Mr Clarke's return would strengthen the shadow cabinet.

The Europhile Mr Clarke, speaking at the same event, reacted cautiously to the idea, saying he had not been asked to join Eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith's team and would "probably" decline any invitation.

Both men said it was important that the party support Mr Duncan Smith's leadership.

Asked about the continuing criticisms of that leadership, Mr Davis said: "Of course the Labour Party attack our leader, they always will. The problem is when we attack our own leader, that's the real issue. Frankly we should not help them by doing so. Full stop. That's the simple point."

Mr Clarke told his audience: "Your opponents and the media are always going to criticise a political leader. So I think you have to be broad-backed and robust about that.

"I think that the obvious truth is we all know here that that is not the sole source of the problem. For about the last 10 years the Conservative Party has faced accusations that various factions are plotting against it, sometimes true, sometimes not.

"And you will not make progress if you continue to have factions which are plotting. They made a fair old mess of the Major government, and they will make a fair old mess of opposition.

"We have got to get this conference, just like last year's, off the agenda of the leadership and back on to what a Conservative government would do. Our only way out of this ... is to start showing that what we are talking about is a platform of credible policies."

Pressed by a member of the audience on whether they fully supported the party leader, Mr Davis said: "Yes absolutely."

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