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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Clarke, a Europhile among sceptics
Ken Clarke
Mr Clarke lost the 1997 leadership race
Conservative leadership contender Ken Clarke achieved what almost no-one predicted all the way through the contest's early stages when he came first in the final ballot of Conservative MPs.

Now the votes of the wider Tory membership will test whether that success was the pinnacle of the clubbable former chancellor's campaign or merely a foothold on the way to a greater victory.

Although one of the party's undoubted big-hitters he can be seen as a divisive figure.

For some Conservatives he could be their saviour after two disastrous general elections - to others, he epitomises everything that is wrong with the party.

Opinion polls suggest that he is the most popular Conservative politician with the British people at large and party supporters as a whole - but the only comprehensive survey of Tory members will be the final vote.

Clarke's CV
Born July 1940
Elected MP for Rushcliffe
Assistant whip 1972-74
Whip 1974
Social security spokesman 1974-76
Industry spokesman 1976-79
Junior transport minister 1979-82
Health minister 1982-85
Paymaster general 1985-87
Chancellor of Duchy of Lancaster 1987-88
Health Secretary 1988-90
Education Secretary 1990-92
Home Secretary 1992-93
Chancellor of the Exchequer 1993-97
Failed attempt to win leadership, 1997
Mr Clarke is one of the most prominent members of John Major's government now remaining in the House of Commons.

The former chancellor, aged 60, is one of the most ardent supporters of Europe and the euro among current Tory MPs.

He admits that his views on Europe could be costly - they certainly contributed to his failure to win the Conservative crown four years ago.

But Mr Clarke may feel that only he can lead the Conservatives back to the centre ground - the area some in the party believe Tony Blair stole from them in the mid 1990s.

Others, however, argue that the party has changed too much since Mr Clarke last threw his hat into the leadership ring.

Ministerial ladder

An MP since 1970, Mr Clarke rose steadily up the Conservative ladder.

Within two years of his election he was an assistant whip, rising to whip and then becoming a junior spokesman on the opposition benches.

Key campaign dates
20 August: Ballot papers sent out
22 August - 7 September: Eight regional hustings held around Britain
11 September: Deadline for return of ballots
12 September: New leader announced
When Margaret Thatcher led the party to victory in 1979 she appointed Mr Clarke to the post of junior transport minister.

Over the next 10 years, he served as a junior minister in the departments of health, employment and trade and industry.

It was not until 1988, that Mr Clarke was promoted to the cabinet.

As health secretary, he was given the job of driving through controversial and far-reaching reforms of the NHS, including the internal market.

Success as chancellor

When John Major became leader he moved Mr Clarke to education and later the Home Office.

After the events of Black Wednesday, the resignation of Norman Lamont and the decision to leave the ERM, Mr Clarke was made chancellor.

It was as chancellor in the Major years that much of Mr Clarke's reputation and standing rests.

His period in charge of the Treasury saw interest rates, inflation and unemployment all falling.

Much of the credit was given to Mr Clarke and Bank of England governor Eddie George - whose regular meetings were dubbed the Ken and Eddie show.

Ill-fated pact

Despite the economy's health, Mr Major's Conservatives, riven by splits over whether the UK should join the European single currency, suffered a huge electoral defeat in 1997.

Once the defeated Tory leader threw in the towel, Mr Clarke was one of the first to enter the leadership race.

Coming from the left of the party, and being one of the most pro-euro Conservative MPs, he lost out in the end to the youthful and more Eurosceptic William Hague, who benefited from the backing of the darling of the Tory right, Lady Thatcher.

In what turned out to be a vain attempt to appeal to Tory MPs from the right wing of the party, Mr Clarke had made a pact - later much derided - with the arch Eurosceptic John Redwood.

That proved insufficient to win the leadership contest and Mr Clarke headed to the backbenches, where he largely vanished from the national political scene, with some company directorships helping to occupy his time.

On platform with Blair

His only high profile appearance turned out to be hugely controversial.

This was when he joined former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine and Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair on a platform to advocate British entry into the euro.

It is something that many in the Conservative Party will never forgive him for.

But now the final round of the leadership election approaches, it remains to be seen whether the differences between Mr Clarke and the vast majority of Tory members over the euro can be overcome.

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