"Clarke doesn’t just come across as thick-skinned; he is resolutely unreflective"by / November 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Ken Clarke became an MP when David Cameron was three years old. Having occupied a ringside seat in high-power Conservative politics for five decades since then, holding a host of Cabinet positions, Clarke has seen it all. The former Chancellor runs us through his life in his memoir Kind of Blue (an allusion to both his political stripe and his love of jazz, especially Miles Davis).
There are some good anecdotes. Clarke describes the eccentric Quintin Hogg, while Lord Chancellor, sitting with a small dog on his lap during Cabinet committee meetings. There is also some good myth-busting. The MP for Rushcliffe had his share of disagreements with Margaret Thatcher, whom he served in various front bench roles, but argues she was more of a consensus politician than is widely assumed. In the face of good arguments, he says, she changed her mind.
Like Thatcher, Clarke was a fiercely determined politician set on streamlining inefficient industries. At the Department of Health he got into disputes with the British Medical Association. He seems to have relished the controversy.
But Clarke doesn’t just come across as thick-skinned; he is resolutely unreflective. The reader is given descriptions of events, but rarely insights into how they made him feel. One worries that this is not so much a deficiency of the book as a deficiency of the man.
Towards the end, some emotion surfaces. A passionate pro-European, Clarke thunders against Cameron’s “irresponsible” decision to hold the EU referendum. This miscalculation is why Clarke didn’t just enter politics decades before Cameron; he will leave it after him, no doubt ruffling feathers until the last.