We were promised that he is still a formidable operator, and yesterday Ken Clarke showed his mettle at the despatch box. Responding to the Government’s announcement (made in the Commons by Lord Mandelson’s deputy Ian Pearson) that it will make up to £2.3 billion available in loans, Mr Clarke said:
"May I begin by thanking the Minister for welcoming me to my new position? I think I have debated matters upstairs in Committee with him twice in the past six months, so I am used to his courtesy and competence, and I look forward to our exchanges.
I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in repeating to this House the statement made a few moments ago by the Secretary of State in the upper House. I actually think it is a constitutional outrage that it is being done in that way, and that it is a very poor way of accounting to the House of Commons, but at least we have been given the details of the package, such as it is.
May I say that I am slightly disappointed? I thought that the Secretary of State, whom I am shadowing, would produce some new ideas and some dynamite. He has been trailing a massive programme of support for the automotive industry, but unfortunately the Minister has had the task of producing pretty small beer. Is it not the case that the Secretary of State is not producing a bail-out because the Treasury has finally won an argument inside the Government and explained to him that it cannot afford the kind of support for the industry that, it seemed to me, his Department was trailing over the weekend?"
We’ll have to wait and see whether this loan arrangement does indeed end up being a bail-out.