‘Ken Clarke for Chancellor’ is no joke

April 6, 2010

Ken Clarke shouldn’t underestimate how strongly the city economists polled by Reuters last week want to see him serve as Britain’s finance minister next term.


The Conservative shadow business secretary and one time ex-Chancellor gleaned a few laughs from Thursday’s BBC Question Time audience when asked about the poll, saying: “There’s a limit to how much of a glutton for punishment you’re going to be.”

But economists would dearly like to see the 69-year-old’s appetite for punishment return soon. No-one came close in the Reuters poll to touching Clarke for popularity. Some 16 out of 29 economists picked him as their first choice for Chancellor.

This was more than twice the number of economists who want to install second-placed Vince Cable, the experienced Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman whose quick wit has made him a public favourite.

For Clarke to serve, Conservative leader David Cameron would first have to dump the party’s likely choice for finance minister George Osborne – a decision that would mean Cameron had gone “slightly off the rails”, according to Clarke.

On Question Time, Clarke was loyal and wholesome in his support for Osborne, who fared poorly in the Reuters poll. He finished fourth from the five choices on offer and behind the current Labour incumbent, Alistair Darling.

The reason? It seems economists either quite like (but not love) Osborne, or dismiss him. There is little middle ground. On the one side, he won more votes for second-choice than any other candidate. On the other, he was the top pick for only two economists and his score was dragged down by the fact he had more votes in the bottom two places than anyone else apart from Labour’s Ed Balls.

The voting pattern for Darling also raised eyebrows. A serving chancellor who presided over the deepest recession since the World War Two might be seen by some as an easy target, but he was the last pick for only one economist. Thirteen out of 29 ranked him third, where he finished overall.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the poll is that Clarke probably has the smallest chance of serving as Chancellor any time soon.

Respondents gave a 55 percent chance of hung parliament resulting from the election on May 6, which if realised would give Darling, Osborne and conceivably Vince Cable a chance to serve as finance minister.

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