Clarke, described by the press as a 'Big Beast' of British politics, has served in the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Education Secretary, Health Secretary and Minister without Portfolio. He has been the President of the Tory Reform Group since 1997. Clarke identifies with economically and socially liberal views.
Clarke contested the Conservative Party leadership three times – in 1997, 2001 and 2005 – being defeated each time. Opinion polls indicated he was more popular with the general public than with his Party, whose generally Eurosceptic stance did not chime with his pro-European views. Notably, he is President of the Conservative Europe Group, Co-President of the pro-EU body British Influence and Vice-President of the European Movement UK.
Clarke was one of only five Ministers (Tony Newton, Malcolm Rifkind, Patrick Mayhew and Lynda Chalker are the others) to serve throughout the whole 18 years of the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, which represents the longest uninterrupted Ministerial service in Britain since Lord Palmerston in the early 19th century. He returned to government in 2010 and his total time as a minister is the fifth-longest in the modern era; having spent over 20 years serving under Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron.
Early life and educationEdit
Clarke was born in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, and was christened with the same name as his father, Kenneth Clarke, a Nottinghamshire mining electrician and later a watchmaker and jeweller. He attended Nottingham High School before going to read for a law degree at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated with an upper second honours degree. Clarke initially held Labour sympathies, his grandfather having been a Communist, but while at Cambridge he joined the Conservative Party.
As Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA), Clarke invited former British Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley to speak for two years in succession, prompting some Jewish students (including his future successor at the Home Office, Michael Howard) to resign from CUCA in protest. Howard then defeated Clarke in one election for the presidency of the Cambridge Union Society, but Clarke subsequently became President of the Cambridge Union a year later, being elected on 6 March 1963 by a majority of 56 votes. Clarke opposed the admission of women to the Union, and is quoted as saying upon his election, "The fact that Oxford has admitted them does not impress me at all. Cambridge should wait a year to see what happens before any decision is taken on admitting them."
In an early-1990s documentary, journalist Michael Cockerell played to Clarke some tape recordings of Clarke speaking at the Cambridge Union as a young man, and he displayed amusement at hearing his then-stereotypical upper class accent. Clarke is deemed one of the Cambridge Mafia, a group of prominent Conservative politicians who were educated at Cambridge in the 1960s. After leaving Cambridge, Clarke was called to the bar in 1963 at Gray's Inn, and "took silk" (was promoted to Queen's Counsel) in 1980.
Clarke sought election to the House of Commons almost immediately after leaving university. His political career began by contesting the Labour stronghold of Mansfield at the 1964 and 1966 elections. In June 1970, at the age of 29, he won the East Midlands constituency of Rushcliffe, south of Nottingham, from Labour MP Tony Gardner. Along with Dennis Skinner (Labour–Bolsover), who has also served continually since the 1970 general election, he is one of the two most senior sitting MPs and is currently Father of the House.
Clarke was soon appointed a Government whip, and served as such from 1972 to 1974; he, with the assistance of Labour rebels, helped ensure Edward Heath's government won key votes on British entry into the European Communities (which later evolved into the European Union). Even though Clarke opposed the election of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative Party Leader in 1975, he was appointed as her Industry Spokesman from 1976 to 1979, and then occupied a range of ministerial positions during her premiership.
Early ministerial positionsEdit
Clarke first served in the government of Margaret Thatcher as Parliamentary Secretary for Transport (1979–81) and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (1981–82), and then Minister of State for Health (1982–85).
He joined the Cabinet as Paymaster-General and Employment Minister (1985–87) (his Secretary of State, Lord Young, sat in the Lords), and served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of the DTI (1987–88) with responsibility for Inner Cities. While in that position, Clarke announced the sale to British Aerospace of the Rover Group, a new name for British Leyland, which had been nationalised in 1975 by the Government of Harold Wilson.
Clarke was appointed the first Secretary of State for Health when the department was created out of the former Department of Health and Social Security in July 1988. Clarke, with backing from John Major, persuaded Thatcher to accept the controversial "internal market" concept to the NHS. Clarke claimed that he had persuaded Thatcher to introduce internal competition in the NHS as an alternative to her preference for introducing a system of compulsory health insurance, which he opposed.
He told his biographer Malcolm Balen: "John Moore was pursuing a line which Margaret [Thatcher] was very keen on, which made everything compulsory medical insurance. I was bitterly opposed to that...The American system is...the world's worst health service – expensive, inadequate and with a lot of rich doctors". In her memoirs Thatcher claimed that Clarke, although "a firm believer in state provision", was "an extremely effective Health minister – tough in dealing with vested interests and trade unions, direct and persuasive in his exposition of government policy".
In January 1989, Clarke's White Paper Working for Patients appeared; this advocated giving hospitals the right to become self-governing NHS Trusts, taxpayer-funded but with control over their budgets and independent of the regional health authorities. It also proposed that doctors be given the option to become "GP fundholders". This would grant doctors control of their own budgets in the belief that they would purchase the most effective services for their patients. Instead of doctors automatically sending patients to the nearest hospital, they would be able to choose where they were treated. In this way, money would follow the patient and the most efficient hospitals would receive the greatest funding.
This was not well received by doctors and their trade union, the British Medical Association, launched a poster campaign against Clarke's reforms, claiming that the NHS was "underfunded, undermined and under threat". They also called the new GP contracts "Stalinist". A March 1990 opinion poll commissioned by the BMA showed that 73% believed that the NHS was not safe in Conservative hands. Clarke later claimed that the BMA was "the most unscrupulous trade union I have ever dealt with and I've dealt with every trade union across the board". Although Thatcher tried to halt the reforms just before they were introduced, Clarke successfully argued that they were necessary to demonstrate the government's commitment to the NHS. Thatcher told Clarke: "It is you I'm holding responsible if my NHS reforms don't work".
By 1994 almost all hospitals had opted to become trusts but GP fundholding was much less popular. There were allegations that fundholders received more funding than non-fundholders, creating a two-tier system. GP fundholding was abolished by Labour in 1997 and replaced by Primary Care Groups. According to John Campbell, by "the mid-1990s the NHS was treating more patients, more efficiently than in the 1980s...the system was arguably better managed and more accountable than before". Studies suggest that while the competition introduced in the "internal market" system resulted in shorter waiting times it also caused a reduction in the quality of care for patients.
Clarke has been the subject of criticism over the decades for his involvement in the contaminated blood scandal. It was the largest loss-of-life disaster in Britain since the 1950s and claimed the lives of thousands of haemophiliacs. Theresa May ordered a public inquiry into the contaminated blood Scandal in July 2017, and some three weeks later, it was reported that Clarke had retracted claims from his autobiography that the victims had received compensation.
Later ministerial positionsEdit
Just over two years later he was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science in the final weeks of Thatcher's Government, following Norman Tebbit's unwillingness to return to Cabinet after the resignation of Sir Geoffrey Howe. Clarke was the first Cabinet Minister to advise Thatcher to resign after her victory in the first round of the November 1990 leadership contest was less than the 15% winning margin required to prevent a second ballot; she referred to him in her memoirs as a candid friend: "his manner was robust in the brutalist style he has cultivated: the candid friend".
Clarke came to work with John Major very closely, and quickly emerged as a central figure in his government. After continuing as Education Secretary (1990–92), where he introduced a number of reforms, he was appointed as Secretary of State for the Home Department in the wake of the Conservatives' victory at the 1992 general election. In May 1993, seven months after the impact of "Black Wednesday" had damaged Norman Lamont's credibility as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Major sacked Lamont and appointed Clarke in his place.
Chancellor of the ExchequerEdit
At first, Clarke was seen as the dominant figure in Cabinet, and at the October 1993 Conservative Party Conference he defended Major from his critics by pronouncing "any enemy of John Major is an enemy of mine."
In the party leadership contest of 1995, when John Major beat John Redwood, Clarke kept faith in Major and commented: "I don't think the Conservative Party could win an election in 1,000 years on this ultra right-wing programme".
Clarke enjoyed an increasingly successful record as Chancellor, as the economy recovered from the recession of the early 1990s and a new monetary policy was put into effect after Black Wednesday. He reduced the basic rate of income tax from 25% to 23%, reduced UK Government spending as a percentage of GDP, and reduced the budget deficit from £50.8 billion in 1993 to £15.5 billion in 1997. Clarke's successor, the Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown, continued these policies, which eliminated the deficit by 1998 and allowed Brown to record a budget surplus for the following four years. Interest rates, inflation and unemployment all fell during Clarke's tenure at HM Treasury. Clarke's success was such that Brown felt he had to pledge to keep to Clarke's spending plans and these limits remained in place for the first two years of the Labour Government that was elected in 1997.
Differences of opinion within the Cabinet on European policy, on which Clarke was one of the leading pro-Europeans, complicated his tenure as Chancellor. Whereas other ministers such as Malcolm Rifkind wished to imply that British Euro membership was unlikely, Clarke fought successfully to maintain the possibility that Britain might join a single currency under a Conservative Government, but conceded that such a move could only take place with the mandate of a referendum. When Tory Party Chairman, Brian Mawhinney, was understood to have briefed against him on one occasion, Clarke memorably declared: "tell your kids to get their scooters off my lawn" – an allusion to Harold Wilson's rebuke of Trades Union leader Hugh Scanlon in the late 1960s.
Role as a backbencherEdit
After the Conservatives entered Opposition in 1997, Clarke contested the leadership of the Party for the first time. In 1997, the electorate being solely Tory Members of Parliament, he topped the poll in the first and second rounds. In the third and final round he formed an alliance with Eurosceptic John Redwood, who would have become Shadow Chancellor and Clarke's deputy, were he to have won the contest. However, Thatcher endorsed Clarke's rival William Hague, who proceeded to win the election comfortably. The contest was criticised for not involving the rank-and-file members of the Party, where surveys showed Clarke to be more popular. Clarke rejected the offer from Hague of a Shadow Cabinet role, opting instead to return to the backbenches.
Clarke contested the party leadership for a second time in 2001. Despite opinion polls again showing he was the most popular Conservative politician with the British public, he lost in a final round among the rank-and-file membership, a new procedure introduced by Hague, to a much less experienced, but strongly Eurosceptic rival, Iain Duncan Smith. This loss, by a margin of 62% to 38%, was attributed to the former Chancellor's strong pro-European views being increasingly out-of-step with the party members' Euroscepticism. His campaign was managed by Andrew Tyrie.
Clarke opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After choosing not to stand for the leadership after Duncan Smith departed in 2003 in the interests of party unity, he returned to fight the 2005 leadership election. He still retained huge popularity among voters, with 40% of the public believing he would be the best leader. He was accused by Norman Tebbit of being "lazy" whilst leadership rival Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggested that Clarke's pro-European views could have divided the Conservative Party had Clarke won. In the event, Clarke was eliminated in the first round of voting by Conservative MPs. Eventual winner David Cameron appointed Clarke to head a Democracy Task Force as part of his extensive 18-month policy review in December 2005, exploring issues such as the reform of the House of Lords and party funding. Clarke is President of the Tory Reform Group, a liberal, pro-European ginger group within the Conservative Party.
On 12 May 2009, The Daily Telegraph reported that Clarke had "flipped" his Council Tax. He had told the Parliamentary authorities that his main home was in the Rushcliffe constituency, enabling him to claim a second-home allowance on his London residence, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill for Council Tax due on that property. However, he told Rushcliffe Borough Council in Nottinghamshire that he spent so little time at his constituency address that his wife Gillian should qualify for a 25% Council Tax (single person's) discount, saving the former Chancellor around £650 per year. Land Registry records showed that Clarke no longer had a mortgage on his Nottinghamshire home where he has lived since 1987. Instead he held a mortgage on his London property, which was being charged to the taxpayer at £480 per month.
Return to the frontbenchEdit
In 2009, Clarke became Shadow Business Secretary in opposition to then-Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson. David Cameron described Clarke as about the only one able to challenge Mandelson and Brown's economic credibility. Two days later it was revealed that Clarke had warned in a speech a month earlier that President Barack Obama could see David Cameron as a "right-wing nationalist" if the Conservatives maintained Eurosceptic policies and that Obama would "start looking at whoever is in Germany or France if we start being isolationist". The Financial Times said "Clarke has in effect agreed to disagree with the Tories' official Eurosceptic line".
Lord Chancellor and Justice SecretaryEdit
On 12 May 2010, Clarke's appointment as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in the Coalition Government formed between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. James Macintyre, political editor of Prospect, argued that in this ministerial role he had instigated a process of radical reform.
In June 2010, Clarke signalled an end to short prison sentences after warning it was "virtually impossible" to rehabilitate any inmate in less than 12 months. In his first major speech after taking office, Clarke indicated a major shift in penal policy by saying prison was not effective in many cases. This could result in more offenders being handed community sentences. Clarke, who described the current prison population of 85,000 as "astonishing", received immediate criticism from some colleagues in a Party renowned for its tough stance on law and order. He signalled that fathers who fail to pay child maintenance, disqualified drivers and criminals fighting asylum refusals could be among the first to benefit and should not be sent to prison.
In May 2011, controversy related to Clarke's reported views on rape resurfaced after an interview on the radio station BBC 5 Live, where he discussed a proposal to further reduce the sentences of criminals, including rapists, who pleaded guilty pre-trial.
In 2011 and 2012, Clarke faced criticism for his Justice and Security Bill, in particular those aspects of it that allow secret trials when "national security" is at stake. The Economist stated: "the origins of the proposed legislation lie in civil cases brought by former Guantánamo detainees, the best-known of whom was Binyam Mohamed, alleging that government intelligence and security agencies (MI6 and MI5) were complicit in their rendition and torture". Prominent civil liberties and human rights campaigners argued: "the worst excesses of the war on terror have been revealed by open courts and a free media. Yet the Justice and Security Green Paper seeks to place Government above the law and would undermine such crucial scrutiny."
Minister without PortfolioEdit
Following the 2012 Cabinet reshuffle, Clarke was moved from Justice Secretary to Minister without Portfolio. It was also announced that he would assume the role of roving Trade Envoy with responsibility for promoting British business and trade interests abroad, a position which he enjoyed.
In the 2014 Cabinet reshuffle, after more than 20 years serving as a Minister, it was announced that Clarke had stepped down from government, to return to the backbenches. Clarke was honoured with appointment as a Companion of Honour, upon the Prime Minister's recommendation, in July 2014.
Return to the backbenchEdit
Clarke was opposed to Brexit during the 2016 referendum on the United Kingdom's continued membership of the European Union, and opposed the holding of the referendum in the first place. He was the sole Conservative MP to vote against the triggering of Article 50.
During the 2016 Conservative Party leadership election Clarke was interviewed by Sky News on 5 July 2016 and made negative comments to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, about the "fiasco" (leadership contest) and about three of the candidates. In a widely circulated video clip, he referred to Theresa May as a "bloody difficult woman", joked that Michael Gove, who was "wild", would "go to war with at least three countries at once" and characterised some of the utterances of Andrea Leadsom as "extremely stupid". Clarke added that Gove "did us all a favour by getting rid of Boris. The idea of Boris as prime minister is ridiculous."
In December 2017 he voted along with fellow Conservative Dominic Grieve and nine other Conservative MPs against the government, and in favour of guaranteeing Parliament a "meaningful vote" on any Brexit deal May agrees with the European Union.
Corporate and other workEdit
Whilst serving as a backbench MP and as a Shadow Cabinet Minister, Clarke accepted a number of non-executive directorships:
- Deputy Chairman and a director of British American Tobacco (BAT) (1998–2007), for which Clarke faced allegations relating to activities of BAT in lobbying the developing world to reject stronger health warnings on cigarette packets and evidence that that corporation had been involved in smuggling and targeting children with advertisements.
- Deputy Chairman of Alliance Unichem
- Chairman (non-executive) of Unichem
- Director of Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust
- Member from June 2007 of the Advisory Board of Centaurus Capital, a London-based hedge fund management company.
- Clarke is a member of the advisory board of Agcapita Farmland Investment Partnership, a Canadian farmland investment fund.
- Director (non-executive) of Independent News and Media (UK).
- Participant at the annual meeting of the Bilderberg Group in 1993, 1998-2000, 2003, 2004, 2006–08, 2012 and 2013.
Also as a backbencher, Clarke declared engagement in non-political media work:
- presented several series of jazz programmes on BBC Radio Four, including one on his namesake, bebop drummer Kenny Clarke
- wrote a monthly column for Financial Mail on Sunday (£10,001–15,000)
- wrote a weekly commentary or interview for Bloomberg Television (£10,001–15,000)
- undertook occasional lecturing, on a self-employed basis.
Clarke's enthusiasm for cigars, jazz, and motor racing is well known, and he enjoys birdwatching as well as reading political history. He is also popularly recognised for his affection for suede Hush Puppies, a brand of shoe, which became a "trademark" of his during his early ministerial days. His autobiography denies he wore Hush Puppies and says these suede shoes were hand-made by Crockett & Jones.
Clarke is a sports enthusiast, being a supporter of both local clubs Notts County and Nottingham Forest, who offered him a chair and a former President of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. He is President of both Radcliffe Olympic and the Radcliffe on Trent Male Voice Choir, and a keen follower of Formula One motorsport. He was involved with tobacco giant British American Tobacco's Formula One team British American Racing (BAR) and has attended Grands Prix in support of the BAR team. BAR was sold to Honda in 2005. He also appeared on the podium of the 2012 British Grand Prix to present the first-place trophy to Mark Webber.
He attended the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final and jokingly claims to have been influential in persuading the linesman, Tofiq Bahramov, to award a goal to Geoff Hurst when the England striker had seen his shot hit the crossbar of opponents West Germany, leaving doubt as to whether the ball had crossed the line. Clarke's position in the Wembley crowd was right behind the linesman at the time, and he shouted at the official to award a goal.
Styles of addressEdit
- Parliamentary Secretary (1979-81)
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Mr Clarke subsequently explained that he and Mr Blair considered that they were attending the conference as representatives of the Government and the Opposition respectively, and stated that "I was quite confident that I was at the time meeting the rules applying to Ministers, and it did not occur to me that the new rules concerning registration could apply to this visit".
- "Register of Members' Interests". United Kingdom Parliament.
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Ken Clarke, Peter Mandelson and former mandarin Lord Kerr were also among the select group of British figures at the gathering of politicians and tycoons.
- Duffy, Jonathan (3 June 2004). "Bilderberg: The ultimate conspiracy theory". BBC News. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
The group, which includes luminaries such as Henry Kissinger and former UK chancellor Kenneth Clarke, does not even have a website.
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5–8 June 2008, to Chantilly, Virginia, USA, to attend Bilderberg Conference. Hotel accommodation paid for by the conference sponsors. (I paid my travel costs.) (Registered 12 June 2008)
- "Register of Members' Interests".
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