Ken Clarke waded back into the political fray last night as David Cameron carried out a major shake-up of his top team.
In a wider-than-expected reshuffle, the former chancellor was made shadow business secretary to take advantage of his “heavyweight” credentials.
And the Tory ‘big beast’ wasted no time making his presence felt, lambasting the government’s efforts to revive the economy as “aimless wandering”.
Mr Clarke’s dramatic return was confirmed as Mr Cameron provided the best indication yet of how a Conservative administration would look.
Eric Pickles was promoted from communities and local government to become party chairman, swapping portfolios with Caroline Spelman — who retains her shadow cabinet status despite being under the shadow of the Nannygate probe.
After six months on the home affairs beat, Dominic Grieve was shifted to cover justice — where the leadership hopes he will capitalise on his barrister background. The more combative Chris Grayling has taken on his responsibilities, having earned plaudits for his handling of the complex Work and Pensions brief.
Theresa May has now assumed that role, while Alan Duncan vacates the business portfolio to be shadow Commons leader. Other winners include shadow Europe minister Mark Francois, who will now attend shadow cabinet.
The main loser was Peter Ainsworth, who lost his environment brief to Nick Herbert. Tory sources said Mr Cameron hoped he would take on an “important role” for the party, but not be on the front bench.
The Conservative leader insisted the revamp meant he had the “strongest possible” team ready for a General Election.
“With Ken Clarke’s arrival, we now have the best economic team,” Mr Cameron said. “He has more experience of dealing with tough economic challenges than Gordon Brown’s entire Cabinet.
“With the other changes I have made today, we have combined fresh thinking with experience, hope and change with stability and common sense.”
Mr Clarke wore his trademark brown suede shoes and looked typically dishevelled as he emerged from his London home to greet reporters.
He dismissed fears his pro-European views could cause friction in the party, along with suggestions that his arrival weakened the position of shadow chancellor George Osborne.
Mr Clarke said he had been persuaded it was “time to stop enjoying myself on the backbenches” and help confront the “big economic crisis”.