His party hoped that Kenneth Clarke as Chancellor would deliver the elusive ‘feelgood factor’ that would somehow win them the election. When would it come through? ‘2 May 1997,’ he told them. He was right. The election was held and lost on 1 May, his successor got off to a flying start, and the factor stayed with him. It has seen him and his party through two more elections, while his opponents tried in vain to argue that all the good work had been done for him. Only now has his factotum, Ed Balls, been sent out to tell us that the man in the floppy hat and the scuffed suede shoes was a terrible Chancellor. Certainly, there was no feel-good factor in the wings when Chancellor Clarke took over. Eight months earlier, his predecessor — whose name ever since then has escaped me — had seen the pound shot to pieces in the marketplace, and his credibility with it. Confidence was shattered, and the public finances were in disarray. The new Chancellor put them top of his list. Nothing would come right, he thought, until they did. If that meant higher taxes, and a grip on public spending, and dismay on his back benches, and anguish from captains of industry, who told him that the economy would never recover — well, tough. This was itself a tough call, and it worked. The economy has never stopped recovering. His successor took the hint, and made much of his golden rules and his devotion to Prudence — but she, poor girl, has served her purpose, the rule has been rebased, the figures look ominous, and Kenneth Clarke as would-be leader warns us that the next Chancellor will have no room for quick tax cuts. Sounds familiar.
This Chancellor’s big moment came early, when he gave the Bank of England independence, and he could fairly say (Ed Balls said it for him) that if his predecessor ever thought of offering his congratulations on a bright idea, he let it pass.