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Tuesday, September 7, 1999 Published at 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK


UK Politics

Clark: One of a kind

Alan Clark: An outspoken maverick

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Alan Clark may be the last of the great characters and individualists to inhabit the House of Commons.

His flamboyant, outspoken and controversial lifestyle won him admirers across the political spectrum - and he was seldom out of the headlines.

He was a right-winger who was in favour of the death penalty for child murderers but was also an animal-loving vegetarian.

He was fiercely nationalistic, once declaring: "It is natural to be proud of your race and your country," but went over the top during one Commons performance when he referred to "Bongo-Bongo land".

In person he could be cutting and dismissive, but was more likely to be charming and entertaining.

He could also be shockingly candid and openly revealed his own insecurities.

Resign job

When he was facing a possible driving ban for being caught doing 99 mph in his, Porsche he stunned one small group of journalists over lunch by asking them whether they thought he should resign his ministerial job. The journalists were unanimous that he should not.

His infamous sense of humour quickly returned however and, before being fined, he claimed in his defence that he believed the police cars chasing him were his personal escort.

Although he was a great favourite of Mrs Thatcher - who he readily admitted to finding attractive - he never achieved Cabinet rank, but served in junior posts, lastly as defence minister between 1989 and 1992.

Most believed it was his private life, his controversial attitudes and his inability to keep quiet when it would have helped his career that ensured he failed to progress any further.

He surprised many by quitting politics at the 1992 election but he always missed Westminster and made a sensational comeback as MP for Kensington and Chelsea in 1997.

He said at the time that his decision to stand down in the first place had been one of the worst decisions of his life.

But it was a mark of his charm and character that he managed to win himself a second chance.

His political diaries became a bestseller when they were published in 1993 and blew the lid off a series of his own affairs plus his deepest thoughts about fellow politicians.

Got away with it

But he always managed to get away with it, famously declaring that he "deserved to be horse whipped" for all his extra-marital affairs. Through it all, his wife Jane stood by him.

Not everyone admired him and some believed his individualism turned too easily to arrogance. And there was no doubt that his great wealth - he famously lived in a castle in Kent - gave him a couldn't-care-less air which offended many.

He also ruffled many feathers in the last Tory government when he became embroiled in the arms-to-Iraq scandal and readily spoke out about his part in it.

Most recently he was adamantly against the Nato involvement in Kosovo, a typically controversial stand which saw him under attack from all sides.

His individualism followed him to the grave - the announcement of his death was not made for two days and after the funeral had taken place.

His death also means a by-election in a safe Tory seat, which immediately led to speculation that it could open the door to a return by former Defence Secretary Michael Portillo - seen by many as the next Tory leader.



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