Cameron hails the return of Ken Clarke after eleven years on the backbenches

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It has been billed as the final reshuffle of the Tory frontbench before the general election.

Gordon Brown could go to the country anytime before June 2010, and David Cameron is the first Conservative leader since 1992 who looks like he might actually win.

This Shadow Cabinet reshuffle had to make the party’s frontbench team look more like a government in waiting.

While David Cameron pushed out Peter Ainsworth, others rumoured to be for the chop, such as Theresa Villiers, kept their jobs.

There was promotion for Chris Grayling and the much-trailed return of “big beast” Ken Clarke to take on Lord Mandelson and bring a dose of old school experience to the Shadow Cabinet, only a handful of whom have ever held ministerial office.

David Cameron, George Osborne, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling and Jeremy Hunt are among the top level Tories who have never been a minister, or even in government.

Mr Cameron mentioned Mr Clarke’s “unrivalled experience” when he announced his return to the frontbench.

He was a minister the whole way through the last Tory governements from 1979 to 1997, and ran three times for his party leadership.

“Eleven years ago it was Ken Clarke who handed over a strong economy, with sound public finances, falling debt and solid growth to Gordon Brown,” said Mr Cameron.

“Gordon Brown has squandered that legacy.”

Mr Clarke said he was “delighted” to join the Shadow Cabinet.

“Only a change in government will restore the confidence that is vital for economic recovery. It really matters that the Conservative Party wins the next election.

“It matters for our economy; it matters for our society. It is going to be a historically important election, and I don’t want to sit on the sidelines – I want to be out on the pitch fighting for the change Britain needs.”