Ken's the man for the Tories

JUST about the only group that the credit crunch and the recession seems to have been good for is the British government.Gordon Brown and co have managed to sail through the storm looking and sounding as if they know what they're doing - even if many of the patients aren't convinced that their medicine will work!The official opposition has ended up looking increasingly lame - they haven't radiated an air of authority and the only people they've really managed to convince that they have the right answers is their own supporters.

JUST about the only group that the credit crunch and the recession seems to have been good for is the British government.

Gordon Brown and co have managed to sail through the storm looking and sounding as if they know what they're doing - even if many of the patients aren't convinced that their medicine will work!

The official opposition has ended up looking increasingly lame - they haven't radiated an air of authority and the only people they've really managed to convince they have the right answers is their own supporters.

Recessions aren't supposed to work like this - the economic crises of the 1970s saw Labour swept away for a generation, and the problems of the 1980s saw Mrs Thatcher re-elected twice only because the opposition was so divided and useless!

In David Cameron the Tories now have a capable, attractive leader - so why aren't they extending their opinion poll lead over Labour? What can they do to increase their gap?

There's a simple, two-word answer to their problem: Kenneth Clarke.

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He may be 68. His views on Europe may be anathema to many in his party - but he is the one senior Tory whose economic abilities are widely respected in the City and, crucially, by those who are not die-hard Conservatives.

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, may be a nice chap and is a close friend of Mr Cameron - but he doesn't come across as a political heavyweight.

And his political acumen must be in doubt - getting involved in the Mandygate controversy during the summer made him look like a bit of twerp!

If Mr Cameron wanted to beef up his party's message, he could do no better than moving Mr Osborne to a slightly less high-profile job like shadow trade secretary and bringing in Mr Clarke as shadow chancellor.

As chancellor in the first half of the 1990s, Mr Clarke helped bring this country out of the last recession. Bringing him back to the frontline now would be a clear statement of intent that the party is ready to bring the country out of the current recession.

And such a move would not be seen as a long-term threat to any of the party's young turks - they would know that he wouldn't remain as Chancellor for too long, maybe two or three years in government until the country is back on its feet, before shuffling off to a comfortable retirement in the House of Lords.

I know Mr Clarke is not popular with Tory right-wingers. They don't like the fact that he is a keen European, and some still blame him for putting the knife into Mrs Thatcher back in 1990.

But the fact is that he is still the best weapon the party have in its battle to win over the floating voters. People believe in him and like him.

What David Cameron and his party now have to do is decide what they want to do in the next 15 months before the general election.

Do they want to retain a modest lead in the polls and risk seeing Labour come from behind and win like the Tories in 1992?

Or do they see it as more important to try to guarantee a victory by recalling the one man who can attract millions of floating voters to support the party for the first time since 1992?

IPSWICH is well placed to survive the recession and emerge into the middle of the next decade as a much better place to live.

Many of the Waterfront developments had already passed the point of no return before the credit crunch and both UCS and Suffolk New College are benefiting from the government's policy of investing in public services.

But we have to be careful to avoid complacency and recognise that the town is going to be changed substantially by the sharpest economic slowdown since the early 1980s.

The collapse of Woolworths came as a shock - the disappearance of a name that seems to have always been there is a clear sign of the problems facing the High Street.

In Ipswich it leaves a massive gap in Carr Street - a gap that is unlikely to be filled in a hurry. The seemingly endless saga that has accompanied the Mint Quarter proposals over the last 20 years seems no nearer a conclusion in the teeth of the economic storm.

And other gaps are set to open in the high street.

Oasis is set to close later this month while the delightful MyJuice bar has already gone from the Buttermarket.

Zavvi and Adams are in administration - and in both stores there are depressing signs of stocks being wound down.

I don't want to be a doom-monger, but there are dark warnings from experts that other well-known stores could also fail during 2009 which could lead to more gaps in the high street.

At the very best the current situation doesn't make it likely that there will be anyone moving into the old Littlewoods store which has now been empty for three years or Woolworths any time soon.

And while developer Turnstone is bullish about the new Westgate Centre, I can't help wondering just when that will all happen. I would be a great deal more confident if we knew someone had definitely signed up to be the largest store in the development!

There is some good retailing news - the start of work on the new Asda at Stoke Park is great for that part of the town and Tesco's proposed new stores in and near the town centre are good news as well.

But anyone who thinks that Ipswich will escape the recession completely could be in for a sharp reality check.

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