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by RAY FLEMING
WE have heard from two of David Cameron's close associates over the past few days and they have made very different impressions. George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, is turning out to be something of a bruiser. Speaking to a meeting of women political journalists he described Gordon Brown as “an unpleasant person who is not liked by many of his fellow ministers.” Leaving aside whether it matters how well a politician is “liked”, as opposed to being “respected”, it is surprising that Mr Osborne finds it necessary to indulge in this kind of gratuitous personal abuse. He has talked of Mr Brown being “past his sell-by date” which is patently not the case. Mr Osborne seems so out of step with his leader's preference for avoiding “Punch and Judy” politics that one has to wonder if they are quite deliberately running a “good cop, bad cop” routine. The other Conservative heavyweight to air his views this week was Kenneth Clarke. As always he was very frank, saying that if he had been elected leader, “I would have been wading through blood by now, trying to get the party to where David Cameron has got it.” And to that he added, “I always realised that if I became leader, it would have been huge test of my political skills to avoid a civil war.” Mr Clarke did not say whether that was a reference to the issue of Europe or intended to be taken more broadly. But whereas Mr Clarke could never have avoided the issue of Europe, Mr Cameron seems to have had no difficulty in refusing to be drawn on the subject beyond the rather parochial point of with which European Parliament grouping Conservative MEPs should ally themselves. Kenneth Clarke is chairman of the party's democracy task force which is looking at ways of giving Parliament more power and restoring public trust in politics. Given the damage that has been done to the civil service and ministerial responsibility during Labour's term, Mr Clarke's task is an important one and his view that “there would be better government if Cabinet decision making was restored and ministers listened to civil servants” is sound sense.