Kenneth Harry "Ken" Clarke, QC, MP born 2 July 1940 is a British Conservative politician, currently Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. He was first elected to Parliament in 1970; and appointed a minister in Edward Heath's government, in 1972, and is one of Britain's best-known politicians. Since 1997 he has been President of the Tory Reform Group.
Clarke was a minister throughout the 18 years of successive Conservative governments from 1979 to 1997, serving in the cabinets of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. After the Conservative defeat in the 1997 general election Clarke became a backbencher. He has contested the Conservative Party leadership three times—in 1997, 2001 and 2005—and was defeated each time. Although he was considered popular with the general public, his famously pro-European integration views conflicted with the Conservative Party's scepticism of the EU. Notably, he is President of the Conservative Europe Group and Vice-President of the European Movement UK. Despite this conflict, and his involvement with the tobacco industry, Conservative leader David Cameron returned Clarke to the Shadow Cabinet in March 2009 as Shadow Business Secretary. When Cameron became Prime Minister in May 2010 he appointed Clarke as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, after appointing Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat, Business Secretary.
Kenneth Clarke was born in West Bridgford, near Nottingham, in 1940, and educated at Nottingham High School (then a direct grant grammar school). He went on to study law at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a 2:1 honours degree. Clarke originally had Labour sympathies, his grandfather having been a Communist. However while at Cambridge, he joined the Conservative Party, and was chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Controversially, he invited former British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley to speak, for a second year in succession, leading 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, although Clarke was elected President of the Union a year later. In an early 1990s documentary, journalist Michael Cockerell played to Clarke some tape recordings of himself speaking at the Cambridge Union as a young man; Clarke displayed amusement at his own stereotypically upper class accent. Clarke was counted one of the Cambridge Mafia, a group of prominent Conservative politicians who were educated at Cambridge in the 1960s. On leaving Cambridge, Clarke was called to the Bar in 1963 by Gray's Inn and was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1980.
Member of Parliament
Clarke sought election to the House of Commons almost immediately after university. He began by fighting the Labour stronghold of Mansfield in the 1964 and 1966 elections. In June 1970, at the age of 29, he gained the East Midlands constituency of Rushcliffe, south of Nottingham, from Labour MP Tony Gardner. Labour has not come close to winning the seat since, but even Gardner's 1966 victory was partly due to the unpopularity of the Tory MP whom he defeated. Clarke was by 2005 one of the longest serving of all MPs. In the 55th Parliament, only Peter Tapsell (serving since 1959) has served longer, and Gerald Kaufman, Dennis Skinner and Michael Meacher all entered Parliament on the same day. David Winnick entered Parliament before Clarke (in 1966) but left in 1970 and only re-entered in 1979.
Kenneth Clarke was soon appointed a Government whip, and served as such from 1972 to 1974; he helped ensure Edward Heath's government win key votes on entry to the European Economic Community (now the EU) with the assistance of Labour rebels. Even though he opposed the election of Margaret Thatcher as 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.
Clarke first served as junior transport minister, than as 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, was in the Lords), and served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister at the DTI (1987–88), with responsibility for the Inner Cities ("because," as one wag put it, "he looked like he lived in one").
Despite being an ardent pro-tobacco advocate, he was appointed Health Secretary in 1988, in which office he introduced the controversial 'internal market' concept in the NHS,. Just over two years later he was appointed Education Secretary in the final weeks of Thatcher's government, following Norman Tebbit's unwillingness to return to the Cabinet. He was famously the first Cabinet minister to advise Thatcher to resign after her inadequate first-round performance in the November 1990 leadership contest; she referred to him in her memoirs as a "candid friend". He supported Douglas Hurd in the next round.
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 Home Secretary in the wake of the Conservatives' unexpected victory at the 1992 general election. In May 1993, seven months after the impact of 'Black Wednesday' had terminally damaged Norman Lamont's credibility as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Major forced Lamont to resign and appointed Clarke in his place.
Chancellor of Exchequer
At first, Clarke was seen as the dominant figure in the Cabinet, and at the October 1993 Conference he "defended" Major from his critics by announcing "Any enemy of John Major is an enemy of mine".
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 was able to reduce the basic rate of Income Tax from 25 to 23%, reduce government's share of GDP, and to halve the budget deficit. Which was £50.8 billion in 1993 and reduced to £15.5 billion in 1997. Labour and Clarke's successor Gordon Brown continued these policies which elminated the deficit in 1998 and allowed Brown to record four years of budget surplus' 1998 - £703 million, 1999 - £12 billion, 2000 - £16.7 billion, 2001 - £8.4 billion. Interest rates, inflation and unemployment all fell during Clarke's tenure at HM Treasury.
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 on the basis of a referendum.
After the Conservatives entered Opposition in 1997, Clarke contested the leadership of the party for the first time. In 1997, a vote exclusively among 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 if Clarke had 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, and became a backbencher.
Clarke contested the party leadership for the second time in 2001. Despite opinion polls showing he was the most popular Conservative politician with the 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 pro-European views being increasingly out of step with the members' Euroscepticism.
Clarke opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After choosing not to fight for the leadership after Duncan Smith departed in 2003, in the interests of party unity, he returned to fight the 2005 election. He again had large popularity among voters, with 40% of the public believing he would be the best leader.
Promotion to the shadow cabinet
Clarke was promoted to Shadow Business Secretary in opposition to the then current Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson. David Cameron described Clarke as the only one able to oppose 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. However, the Financial Times said "Clarke has in effect agreed to disagree with the Tories’ official Eurosceptic line".
Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary
On 12 May 2010, it was announced that Clarke had been appointed Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor by Prime Minister David Cameron in a coalition government formed from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
In June 2010, Clarke signalled an end to short prison sentences after warning it was "virtually impossible" to rehabilitate an inmate in less than 12 months. In his first major speech since taking office, Mr Clarke indicated a major shift in penal policy by saying prison was not effective in many cases. This could result in more offenders handed community punishments. Mr Clarke, who described the current prison population of 85,000 as "astonishing", faced 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 and disqualified drivers and criminals fighting asylum refusals could be among the first to benefit and should not be in prison. The Prison Governors' Association raised questions about the plan, particularly the impact on employment opportunities for the wider population at a time of economic uncertainty: "Is it right at a time of economic crisis that prisoners should be taking work from those law-abiding citizens many of whom are losing their livelihoods?"
In December 2010 Clarke, in a move to cut prison numbers, said that a Conservative Party election pledge that anyone caught carrying a knife illegally could expect a jail term will not be implemented, the BBC has been told. Clarke said he would put sentencing policy in the hands of judges, not newspaper pundits. But he said those guilty of using a knife illegally would face a “serious” jail term. Asked by BBC political editor Nick Robinson whether people caught carrying knives illegally could expect a lesser punishment, Mr Clarke said ministers would not insist on “absolute tariffs”. It means that, as at present, someone caught carrying a knife illegally may not face a custodial sentence, and may be cautioned instead.