Down to Kings Place where the Guardian were putting on one of their excellent member’s events.
The lecture room is a great and comfortable venue and the three man Jazz band that entertained us
as we entered the hall should have given us a clue that we were about to witness an evening with one
of the most passionate Jazz politicians, Ken Clarke.
In my ever-increasing years I have valued listening to those politicians with experience and hinterland,
such as Denis Healey, Tony Benn, John Major and of course Ken Clarke. They have a worldly
wisdom and regardless of whether they accord with your personal views they are all challenging and
interesting to listen to.
Ken Clarke is sometimes described as a political beast in suede shoes and is also known as a
brandy-swilling, cigar-chomping favourite of both the left and the right wing of modern British politics.
In a candid and most entertaining interview with former Guardian political editor Michael White, Clarke
talked about some of the most interesting parts of his career and reconfirmed his strong beliefs
(including his wish to maintain Britain’s place in the European Union.)
Clarke is now 74 years old but does not look it. His career in politics is testament to the fact that with
resilience, stamina and honesty you stand a good chance of surviving in the Westminster bear pit. He
does cover a lengthy period in the politics of Britain and it is to be marveled at that he served under
four Prime Ministers – Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron –
stretching over six decades
He was not however a favourite of Mrs Thatcher and arguably did not receive the preferment that his
stature could have warranted (although she did latterly appreciate the fact thatwhen she was toppled
he was the only member of her cabinet who stabbed her in the front!)
He did not represent the majority view of his party and it was not a surprise that he fought for the
leadership of the Conservatives on three occasions and failed each time. You cannot help but believe
that his Labour opponents breathed a sigh of relief that they did not have him to contend with as
Leader of the Opposition. He did however under the Major administration become firstly Home
Secretary and after Black Wednesday replace Norman Lamont as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Those of you who grew up in the days when we spoke constantly of Balance of Payments will be
intrigued to know that he was the last Chancellor to achieve a Balance of Payments surplus! (Really –
check it out!)
Amazingly when he stepped down from government office last year he had served 23 years as a
minister – the fifth longest of the 20th century (Churchill wins with 29 years) .