Ken Clarke backs Tories A-list

Former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke yesterday gave his backing to David Cameron's controversial A-list of favoured candidates for plum seats.

Former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke yesterday gave his backing to David Cameron's controversial A-list of favoured candidates for plum seats.

The backbencher, who was at Holkham Hall to open a new nature trail, said the list was a good idea because it provided a wide range of applicants.

"Any local candidates can still be elected in any constituency on a level playing field, but as we want more women in Parliament and more ethnic minorities we need to be able to select people for particular seats," he said. "That way we will have a good cross-section of the party representing us the right places."

Mr Clarke was responding to questions over whether he thought it was right to put actor and would-be MP Adam Rickitt in the frame for the new Mid Norfolk seat after it emerged the former Coronation Street star was being interviewed this weekend for the job.

But he was full of praise for the Tory leader and admitted that he had not even been to the party conference because he was so confident in Cameron's direction.

"It is the first I have missed for a long time but there are no deep implications to it," he said. "I had a meeting in the Far East and decided that it was David Cameron's conference, and I am content with the way the party is coming along so I felt there was no real need to be there. I think it was a very successful week.

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"I lost the leadership to the right guy. I have been arguing for years that we have moved far too far right wing and were becoming very unattractive. David is taking us back to the centre ground and is looking at issues like conservation, green policies, biodiversity, global warming, levels of world poverty, the work/life balance - things that really matter to the electorate."

He also praised Cameron's attitude to policy-making, saying that the leader was working hard to devise his policies without making the party sound obsessive or extreme.

"I am sure we will soon have clear policies and bring the party face to face with the realities of today's world."

But while he said he was not seeking a major role in Cameron's cabinet, the 66-year-old was far from finished with political life.

"He has put me to work, as chairman of a policy task force, but it is up to him whether he wants me as part of his government. I am no longer the ambitious young MP trying to catch the selector's eye, but I have reached the stage where I ask myself six months before an election whether I want to carry on and do another Parliament and I find I am still enjoying it very much. I am not one for the quiet life, although it would give me more time to watch cricket and go bird-watching."

Mr Clarke's love of nature was one of the reasons he was asked to open the new nature trail at Holkham. He was also there as a friend of former MP Jim Lester, whose son Simon is the estate's head game-keeper and who devised the trail.

It takes visitors from the hall around the 35-acre lake on about a three-mile walk, with numbered markers at different spots to direct people to the various flora and fauna that can be seen along the route. Nesting boxes and feeding stations have been put up in the trees near to each stop so people can get a good view of the birds that live in the surrounding woodland.

Officially opening the trail, Mr Clarke said: "North Norfolk is one of my favourite places and the coast has some of the finest bird-watching in the British Isles. Holkham has added to the attraction with this well-prepared, well-presented trail."

Visitors to Holkham have free, unlimited access to the park 364 days of the year.