Daily Archives: December 7, 2010

Over at the Guardian, Nick Watt has pulled together a terrific summary of the lifelong rivalry between Ken Clarke and Michael Howard. It began 50 years ago with a row over Oswald Mosley and it’s still going strong today over prisons policy.

Clarke and Howard are, of course, members of the so-called Cambridge Mafia that graduated from 1960s student politicking to rule the roost in Whitehall as cabinet ministers.

It is a famous tale. But there is a coalition twist to the Cambridge Mafia story that is less well known.

One of the Cambridge Union presidents around this time was a young liberal activist from York called Vince Cable.

Now that the coalition is formed, Cable has surely earned his place as a “made man”. He really deserves to join the list of Cambridge Mafioso, which includes Clarke, Howard, Norman Lamont, Norman Fowler, John Gummer and Leon Brittan. (Some of them are pictured here at Clarke’s wedding.)

That said, while they mixed in the same circles, Vince was never terribly keen on joining the gang. He remarked that Clarke was “not particularly exciting back then – not the real personality he later became”. And this is what he thought of the Tory “conveyor belt”. Read more

There is a clear, unremitting pattern to David Cameron’s announcements on Afghanistan: they all point to the exit. Today he repeated that troops could begin returning in 2011 — contradicting a warning from the new head of the armed forces last month. As one senior military figure told me recently, Cameron “is not making our job easier”.

General Sir David Richards, the chief of defence staff, is travelling with the prime minister in Helmand and certainly gave a much warmer response to the idea of an “accelerated withdrawal” when asked this time round. But there will still be a lively discussion over the pace of the draw down and what, if anything, would slow it down. Read more