Now Lord Clarke of Nottingham, Kenneth Clarke first entered parliament as a 29-year-old at the 1970 General Election.
Since the 1970s, Clarke has served in the governments of Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron. Clarke’s pro-European views often put him at odds his party.
Clarke made his ‘one-nation’ pitch for leader on three occasions (1997, 2001 and 2005) but was unsuccessful in each attempt. Nonetheless, Clarke’s esteemed CV includes the posts of Chancellor, Home Secretary, Health Secretary, Education Secretary, Justice Secretary and Paymaster General.
Undoubtedly, Clarke is one of the most important political figures of the past 50 years.
What is he doing now?
In February 2020, Clarke was nominated for a life peerage. He now sits in the House of Lords as a Conservative.
In November 2023, he backed shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, labelling her “reassuring” and “responsible”.
He revealed to the i’s podcast, “Labour’s Plan for Power”, that he has been impressed by Labour’s shadow chancellor.
Speaking to the i, he said he supported Reeves’ “uncompromising” approach to her economy brief, which has included spearheading the decision to water down Labour’s flagship £28 billion green prosperity plan.
Clarke also suggested that Reeves and chancellor Jeremy Hunt represented the same view of how to run the Treasury. He said the shadow chancellor’s macroeconomic policy “matches” Hunt’s.
First elected in 1970 for the constituency of Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire, Clarke served a total of 49 years in the House of Commons. He was Father of the House (the longest-serving parliamentarian) through the 2017 to 2019 Parliament.
Clarke was given his first Government role in 1972 as an Assistant Whip by then Prime Minister, Edward Heath. From 1974-1988, Clarke held junior ministerial roles, before being promoted to Secretary of State for Health under Margaret Thatcher. As a Europhile and ‘One-Nation’ Tory, Clarke became a notorious ‘wet’ (critic of the Thatcher); Clarke recalls having many arguments with the then Prime Minister.
Under John Major, with whom Clarke was more ideologically aligned, Clarke became Secretary of State for Education and Science (1990-1992), Home Secretary (1992-1993) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1993-1997).
In the coalition government (2010-2015), Clarke served as the Secretary of State for Justice (2010-2012) and then as a Cabinet Minister without portfolio (2012-2014). Nick Clegg has joked that he relied on Clarke as a sixth Liberal Democrat Cabinet in the coalition government.
Kenneth Clarke and Brexit
Clarke has long-standing pro-European views dating back to his earliest days as a Cabinet Minister. Clarke was bitterly opposed to holding the EU referendum and was a prominent Remain voice during the campaign.
Following the ‘Leave’ result, Clarke was the only Conservative MP to oppose triggering Article 50 and he continued to oppose both May’s and then Johnson’s approach to Brexit.
In August 2019, there was speculation that Clarke could be appointed as an interim Prime Minister as the Head of an anti-‘no-deal’ government of national unity. After Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson floated the idea, Clarke responded saying he would ‘not object’.
In September 2019, Clarke had the Conservative Whip removed alongside 20 other MPs after voting to block a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. After losing the whip, Clarke referred to the Tory party—which he had been representing since 1970—as the ‘Brexit Party rebadged’. Clarke retired from the Commons at the 2019 General Election.
Early Life and Family
Kenneth Harry Clarke was born on the 2nd of July 1940. After graduating from Cambridge University, Clarke was called to the bar in 1963 and became a QC (Queen’s council) in 1980. In 1964, Clarke married Gillian Edwards; they had two children. Edwards died of cancer in 2015.
Kenneth Clarke – 3 Things you may not know
He attended the 1966 World Cup Final
Clarke was working as a barrister in Birmingham when he won tickets for the 1966 World Cup Final. Clarke duly berated the Russian linesman when he hesitated to award a Geoff Hurst shot that may-or-may-not have crossed the goal-line. Clarke has jokingly said his ‘rudimentary’ Russian was enough to persuade the linesman to make the right decision.
He is a keen birdwatcher
Clarke is well-known for his love of cigars, jazz and classic cars, but he is also partial to birdwatching.
He is not an active user of digital technology
Clarke was initially unsure whether he had lost the Conservative whip in September 2019. He was notorious for only using my mobile phone for outgoing calls, saying ‘nobody knows’ my number and I certainly don’t do anything online’.
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