The Londoner: Ken Clarke's crisis of political faith

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Former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke’s crisis of political faith continues apace. “I’m a doubtful Conservative,” he told John Humphrys at an Intelligence Squared event last night. “I’m one of those Conservatives who is thinking of voting Liberal.”

Clarke, who held positions in the Heath, Thatcher, Major and Cameron governments, was stripped of the whip this September after he rebelled against the Government’s Brexit deal. He is now politically homeless. “I’m a life-long Conservative,” he opined. “I’ve voted Conservative in every single general election because I’ve been a candidate in every single general election since I was old enough to vote.”

While Clarke won’t go as far as his old colleague, Michael Heseltine, who is out campaigning for the Lib Dems, his doubt has proved a boon to the opposition: “The Liberal candidate is using [my support] on his leaflets in my constituency,” said Clarke. He was forthright in his views on the change he has observed in Boris Johnson: “Until the referendum I would not have said that he was a particularly Right-wing Conservative. Apart from anything else, I’d no idea he was a Brexiteer. Not sure he did either.” And while he doesn’t believe that Johnson has an illiberal past, he does believe the Prime Minister possesses an “unfortunate turn of phrase”.

Clarke, though, reserved greater ire for the Leader of the Opposition. “Jeremy Corbyn could not be elected Prime Minister of this country if he kept trying for a thousand years,” Clarke said. “If it were in the politics of my earlier years and some bright social democrat of the moderate wing of the Labour Party was leading the party, they’d be out of sight in the polls.”

Apart from the Iraq War, Clarke added, the Blair government “wasn’t a bad government at all”. With retirement beckoning, he is now considering his options. “I’m practising to be a grumpy old man,” he says. “My children tell me I need no practice whatsoever.”

Rubbish escape

Trouble last night in Lewes for a Conservative councillor who stood in for candidate Maria Caulfield at a climate hustings. As it was a late swap, Nancy Bikson made introductory remarks and then made her excuses before questions, only to find herself trapped outside.

She opted to climb on some bins and then over a fence rather than go back through the hall’s audience. “It was only because there wasn’t any other way and I didn’t want to disrupt everybody,” Bikson told The Londoner this morning. “It was either that or sit outside for a couple of hours.”

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Dawn French recalls the first time she used the speak function on her two-way baby monitor. Her daughter Billie wouldn’t sleep and had started calling out. The actor tells the Blank podcast she spoke through the device: “‘It’s time for bed now, Billie, night night.’ It just went completely and utterly silent. Then she said, ‘Night, wall.’”

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Protesters angry that the BBC was broadcasting from the campus during a strike interrupted a live Today programme interview from the University of Edinburgh with audible shouts of: “Why are you breaking the strike?” this morning. Justin Webb countered: “We’re going to get to the strike in a moment.”

Straight-talking Nicky's bad sex verdict

Last night’s Bad Sex Awards got a rap on the knuckles from prize presenter Nicky Haslam. After the six shortlisted passages — all heterosexual — were read out to the audience, which included ex-winner Rachel Johnson, the socialite wondered aloud: “It’s strange how straight bad sex is, isn’t it? Or perhaps how bad straight sex is.” Haslam then opened the envelope to announce, “The winner is… Prince Andrew,” before correcting himself to reveal the joint winners. Why did he think same-sex scenes didn’t feature? “It’s so beautiful — there’s no slosh.”​

Holy smoke! Is that Dolph at the Boisdale?

(Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Dolph Lundgren offered his poetic side at Boisdale Cigar Smoker of the Year Awards last night. The former Universal Soldier and He-Man showed he was master of the iambic pentameter by using his victory speech to deliver Thomas Hood’s Ode to a Cigar. “Some fret themselves to death; With Whig and Tory jar,” said the Eighties action hero. “I don’t care which is in. So I have my cigar.” Lundgren, who was joined by actors James Cosmo and David Soul as well as Boisdale founder Ranald Macdonald and Love Island star Jourdan Riane, explained how he’d come to this black-tie dinner in Canary Wharf. “I was at a party in Sly Stallone’s house,” he said. “There was an Austrian guy next to me — he might have talked to me a little about it.”

For those worrying it was all getting a bit too macho, Tom Parker Bowles was on hand to praise the cigar smokers of yesteryear. “Former winners include Baroness Trumpington and Burt Reynolds. Both dead, sadly,” he told the crowd. “And Andrew Neil — very much with us, thank the Lord.”

SW1A

Jacob Rees-Mogg on stones

Jacob Rees-Mogg seemed to have gone to ground after he suggested residents of Grenfell Tower lacked common sense, but the Cabinet minister has popped up in his constituency, at Stanton Drew stone circles in Somerset. “I’m here by the standing stones in Stanton Drew, thought to be 4,500 years old…” Rees-Mogg says in front of the ancient monuments. The minister for the Stone Age...

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AN unfortunate typo: “£100 billion to tackle climate emergency, boosting renewable energy and insulting every home,” boasts a leaflet for Penrith and The Border’s Lib Dem candidate Matthew Severn. Severn claimed on Twitter: “There are a lot of leaflets… a lot.” Don’t insulate us, Matthew.

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The Prince over the water is back. David Miliband will campaign for Labour in Ilford North on Sunday, backing moderate Wes Streeting. Probably not how the Centrist Dads imagined it.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

‘It is total nonsense’

Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo rubbishes the idea “that you are supposed to stay in your lane” when writing fiction