Martin Bright

A New Tory Policy: Back to the Eighties

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I cornered Ken Clarke after the press conference on employment and welfare today and asked him a direct question about my pet subject - Margaret Thatcher's Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

I couldn't get in a question during the press conference itself, which was dominated by journalists from Channel 4 (three questions, come on chaps, fair's fair!) and some bloke called Forsyth from the Spectator.

I asked Clarke about his post on the Linked In social networking site asking for people's experiences of the 1980s scheme for people wanting to come off the dole and set up their own small businesses. I have been lobbying for this for some time, as has the Federation of Small Businesses. It is the central recommendation of a New Deal of the Mind report for the Arts Council published last month.

Clarke was remarkably frank with me. "I think we will do it", he said. It's not often that a politician is bold enough to launch a new policy in the middle of an election campaign. But there you have it.

I said I was surprised not to see a recomendation for the revival of the scheme in the Conservative manifesto. He shrugged and told me he thought it had been a great success and he thought it should be revisited. A Tory staffer later told me that not everything being planned for a Conservative government was in the manifesto.

Clarke went on to tell me that he had just heard about a prominent fashion label that started life on the EAS. He means Superdry, run by Julian Dunkerton, one of the most prominent alumni of the scheme. 

Sometimes you do wonder whether the Tory high command should be listening to this man a little more. David Cameron may be modelling himself on Gene Hunt, but Ken Clarke was actually there.