I have just finished Ken Clarke’s memoirs (reading them, not writing them, of course!), ‘Kind of Blue, A Political Memoir’: a delightful read, not heavy going at all. Ken takes the reader on the journey from his childhood, through school, university, his being called to the Bar, then balancing his early political and legal career, to reaching the exalted heights of his political success, all of which, it is perfectly clear, he would not have achieved without his beloved Gillian by his side.
Ken differs from so many politicians – he doesn’t take himself very seriously. He takes his responsibilities seriously but not himself. Throughout this glorious memoir, Ken is self-deprecating and he comes across as the ‘good bloke’ that millions of people know him to be…
I’m left, at the end of Ken’s memoirs, smiling, appreciating lives well lived (his and Gillian’s), thankful for the service that he gave, and still gives, to the UK but sad, sad that he didn’t become PM. It seems to me (I thought this before I read Ken’s memoirs) that Ken Clarke is one of the greatest men NOT to become Prime Minister. He was eminently qualified, not just thanks to his experience in Government but as a person, his inherent qualities as a human being making him perfectly suited to the job.
Sadly – tragically – my guess is that Ken was simply too principled, too selfless, too ‘nice’ (I had it drummed into me at school that I should never use the fluffy, not-at-all precise adjective ‘nice’) to become PM. I have no doubt that if he had chucked some of his principles in the bin, focused on the goal of becoming PM, pandered to the electorate, gone with the flow and ridden (good English??) the wave of today’s media age, he could have resided at No.10 but that just wasn’t him. I look at the mess we’re in today – BREXIT – and the tragedy that Ken isn’t PM hits me all the more! All that said, it is Ken’s adherence to his principles which makes him the great man that he is:
Ken: “I could see no point at all in aspiring to be Prime Minister on a platform of political opinions that were not mine” (in stark and depressing contrast to the present incumbent of No. 10, PM Theresa May – unless her pro-‘Remain’ speeches before the Referendum weren’t genuine).
Still, be assured that Ken’s memoir is absolutely not a tale of ‘woe is me’. To call upon Paul Anka’s most famous lyric, brought to us by Frank Sinatra – and Elvis – Ken did it his way and my guess is that he is satisfied with the careers he has had, that he enjoyed them, that he continues to enjoy his work, and that he rests at night knowing that he has lived his life honestly and, importantly, that he has added value to people’s lives, not just his own.
Ken, whilst not cruel, throwing low lunches or scoring cheap points, he re-introduces us to the characters he met, in passing and with whom he lived/worked, during his life’s journey – Margaret Thatcher (of course!), Michael ‘Tarzan’ Heseltine, Norman Fowler, Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe, Norman Tebbit, to name only a few – lots of humour oiling the wheels of the train on the tracks of Ken’s journey, eg
“Margaret (Thatcher) enjoyed a vigorous political argument and I had many debates with her throughout my time in her government. She could be extremely aggressive and sometimes very rude (though he did massively respect many of her achievements as PM). During one of our many face-to-face rows, for example, she broke off her argument to say ‘There is always one man who talks too much in Cabinet. It used to be Robert Carr, but now it’s you’”,
though Ken does call a spade a spade when it comes to some of the people, Whitehall/Government departments and organisations with whom he has worked eg:
“But the fact remains that the BMA (British Medical Association) was the most ruthless and determined opponent I ever faced in my political career”,
“The pharmaceutical industry spent as much money on marketing as it did on clinical research” (a frighteningly damning verdict!).
Again, it seems to me that because Ken doesn’t take himself too seriously, he has been able to deal with some of the more difficult characters along the way – Ken hasn’t taken things overly personally, he was able to prioritise, assess what is truly important and what is not and to put his energies into what genuinely matters. I think that this has helped him enjoy his life and because politics hasn’t been ‘everything’, because of his love for Gillian and his family, his love of jazz, bird watching and other pastimes, he managed to achieve a balance and a sense of peace:
“Ministerial activity, with its greater pressures and longer working hours, had quite an effect on my daily life including my following of jazz. At first, Roy Gibbons, my allocated Government driver, became used to dropping off my red box of ministerial homework at my London home in Kennington before running me on to Ronnie Scott’s in Soho after the ten o’clock vote. In my first years as a minister I could stay at Ronnie Scott’s into the early hours, sitting at the back of the darkened club and listening to one of my heroes, before going home by taxi and tackling my red box”.
For me, Ken would have been a welcome breath of fresh air as PM in a world, or certainly a nation, which has followed a well-trodden political path for too long:
“Tony (Blair) was a great admirer of both Margaret Thatcher and her government………David (Cameron) and George Osborne were huge admirers of Tony Blair’s style of government and often referred to him as ‘The Master’”.
I think that the following quote from Ken highlights what and why he went into politics:
“I have already observed that I have a remarkably calm temperament, have the hide of a pachyderm and positively enjoy controversy. It makes me feel that what I’m engaged in is important and actually matters. A long, quiet, uncontroversial tenure of office in any department would have had a more depressing effect upon me than the constant stimulus that I derived from political battles for causes which I, mistakenly or otherwise, firmly believed in”.
Great memoir, great bloke, and I sincerely hope that Ken remains involved in public life for many years to come – we NEED him, particularly NOW! – and that, if and when he puts his feet up, he enjoys his dotage and continues to find peace listening to jazz, bird watching and in the company of family and friends…..he deserves it!