Probably the biggest concern of those of us who were sceptical about Ken Clarke returning to the Shadow Cabinet was how he would deal with collective responsibility on the European question – especially with the impending campaign for the elections to the European Parliament.

Today he has answered those questions directly in a Q&A with readers of The Independent.

Asked if he will be campaigning for the Conservative party in the European elections, he replies:

"I will consider invitations to campaign, but some of our European election candidates may feel as I do that I would not be the most persuasive of advocates on some of their campaigning issues."

And on the wider question of Tory European policy he tells another reader:

"Conservative policy on Europe has been settled by David Cameron, and I have no intention of seeking to change or challenge it. The policy is reasonably moderate and the policy does not provide any justification for me declining to join the Shadow Cabinet at a time of economic crisis or accept collective discipline, as British politicians always do in our system of parliamentary government."

Since his appointment to the Shadow Cabinet I have been generally impressed with his performances at the Despatch Box and in the media. He is a star turn with box office appeal and as long as he sticks to his pledge not to rock the boat on Europe as outlined above, his return makes the party stronger as it takes the fight to Labour.

Incidentally, it’s worth reading the Independent Q&A in full as Mr Clarke also addresses, among other things, his acceptance of party policy on recognising marriage in the tax system – "I am now directly exposed to the collective wisdom of my colleagues", his relationship with George Osborne – "he is cut out to be the next chancellor", and his previous involvement in the tobacco industry – "I am a strong believer in personal responsibility and freedom of choice".

Jonathan Isaby

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