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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Ken Clarke, two-time 'lucky loser'
Ken Clarke
In time, Ken Clarke may once again count himself lucky
Nyta Mann

"I think one of the luckiest things that happened to me was not to win the leadership of the Conservative Party, in some ways," said Ken Clarke.
Ken Clarke
Born 2 July 1940
Elected MP for Rushcliffe 1970
Assistant whip 1972-74
Whip 1974
Social security minister 1974-76
Industry minister 1976-79
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
Chancellor 1992-97
Failed to win leadership, 1997
Failed a second time to win leadership, 2001

Lucky, he explained, because being so at odds with the views of most of most of his fellow Tory MPs would have made it an extremely difficult job.

He spoke those words a year ago, reflecting on his previous shot at the leadership in 1997. Once over the short-term disappointment of his second defeat, he may well come to the same judgment.

Last time too, he was beaten by a candidate anointed by Margaret Thatcher as her rightful heir. Last time too, opinion polls of the wider electorate backed Clarke while the leadership selectorate chose another.

This time round, polls once again consistently indicated that Clarke would make the most popular leader as far as the voting public was concerned.

But in the end, a deeply Eurosceptic party just could not bring itself to support a devout pro-European.

Big beast marches out of step

Clarke was one of the few remaining big hitters in a Conservative parliamentary party lacking stars since its cataclysmic defeat in 1997.

Ken Clarke's time as chancellor made his reputation
He had the experience, serving on the government frontbench for the full 18-year stretch of Tory rule from 1979 onwards.

He had the reputation, praised by economists - Tory and Labour - for his handling of the nation's finances while chancellor.

And in the present spin doctored, focus grouped era, his unforced insouciance - the scuffed Hush Puppies, the fondness for cigars, beer and jazz, the frank-verging-on-offensive manner - enjoyed a wide appeal beyond the narrow Tory core.

Highly pragmatic

But these pluses failed to make up for the big minus of his being strikingly out of step with today's Tory Party - and not only on Europe.

President of the Tory Reform Group, Clarke is firmly on his party's One Nation wing; socially liberal and tolerant of lifestyles that stray beyond "traditional" family values.

He has even complained that Labour has been too right wing on home affairs and the spending limits it stuck to for its first two years in office.

John Major backed Ken Clarke for the top job
The former chancellor is highly pragmatic with it, though, as shown by his steady promotion throughout the Thatcher years and later in the startling pact between himself and the super-sceptic John Redwood for the final round of the 1997 contest.

Arriving at the Commons in 1970, he rose steadily up the Conservative ladder. Within two years he was in the whips' office, before becoming a junior spokesman on the opposition benches.

When Mrs Thatcher led the party to victory in 1979 she appointed Clarke to the post of junior transport minister.

Over the next decade he passed through the departments of health, employment and trade and industry as a junior minister.

In 1988 he gained entry to the cabinet as health secretary. He showed his willingness to undertake tough jobs when he drove through controversial and far-reaching reforms to the NHS, including the introduction of GP fundholding and the internal market.

Reputation built

Under John Major he became education and then home secretary.

It was not until after the Black Wednesday of 16 September 1992, when the pound bounced out of the ERM and Norman Lamont paid the price with his job, that Clarke took over as chancellor.

His time in the post sealed his standing. Helped along by the sterling devaluation which came from leaving the ERM, his period as chancellor saw interest rates, inflation and unemployment all falling.

Iain Duncan Smith: Once more, the Thatcher-anointed candidate claims the Tory crown
Ironically, Clarke's reign at the Treasury left a golden economic legacy for Labour to inherit when Tony Blair swept to power.

In opposition and after failing to succeed Major, he shunned a frontbench role under William Hague in order to spend more time with the company directorships he picked up - British American Tobacco among them.

Unforgiven on Europe

But it is the Rushcliffe MP's insistent support for Europe which did for his chances of claiming the Tory crown.

He is an unrepentant - some would say stubborn - pro-European and supporter of joining the euro as soon as the time is right.

Having frequently expressed his views in typically combative style - "the kind of politician who will cross a road in order to get into a fight" is how Douglas Hurd once described him - Clarke knew they could cost him dearly.

He will have certainly paid a price for his 1999 co-starring role with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to launch the pro-euro Britain in Europe campaign - a tremendous coup for New Labour still seen as unforgivable treason by many in the Tory fold.

During the leadership campaign Clarke sought to resolve the apparently unbridgeable Tory gulf on Europe by promising "a free vote and freedom in debate" on the single currency.

Combined with the view that he was the only candidate who could take the Conservatives back to the centre ground stolen from under them by New Labour, it was enough to win the backing of a host of prominent Eurosceptics - the likes of Sir Michael Forsyth and Boris Johnson MP among them.

But it was not, ultimately, enough to win him the prize.


Winner and loser




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