Page last updated at 08:13 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Profile: Kenneth Clarke

Kenneth Clarke
Kenneth Clarke was home secretary and chancellor

Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor and thrice defeated Tory leadership contender, is to return to frontline politics as shadow business secretary.

The 68-year-old is widely regarded as one of the Conservative Party's most senior and important figures.

He is the one of the only prominent members of John Major's government now remaining in the House of Commons.

The former chancellor is one of the most ardent supporters of Europe and the euro among current Tory MPs, although he has been more critical in recent times.

On this and his backing for the Lisbon EU Treaty - which the Conservative Party opposes - he and his leader David Cameron are said to have agreed to disagree.

It's a pity I'm not chancellor at a time like this, because I like a crisis
Kenneth Clarke, speaking in 2008

In the run-up to the announcement he was to return to the Tory front bench, he had given numerous interviews on the government's response to the economic downturn.

Labour tried to use him to its advantage, saying he supported cutting VAT to 15%, but Mr Clarke said it was only a good idea if the UK could afford it.

As the downturn took hold late in 2008 Mr Clarke spoke of the adrenalin buzz one got from dealing with a national crisis.

He told a newspaper: "It's a pity I'm not chancellor at a time like this, because I like a crisis."

As the prospect of a comeback began to look more likely, some old rivals rounded on him, with Norman Tebbit claiming Mr Clarke was too lazy for front-bench life.

Black Wednesday

Mr Clarke studied law at Cambridge, was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn in 1963 and became a QC in 1980.

It was at Cambridge - where he was president of the Union in 1963 - that Mr Clarke became an active Conservative, and met his wife Gill.

An MP for Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire, 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.

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

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

In 1985 Mr Clarke - the son of a Nottinghamshire watchmaker and jeweller - joined the cabinet as paymaster general and then chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

In 1988 he got his own department for the first time when he became health secretary, with the job of driving through controversial and far-reaching reforms of the NHS, including the internal market.

Clarke and Major
MP for Rushcliffe since 1970
Health Secretary 1988-90
Education Secretary 1990-92
Home Secretary 1992-93
Chancellor of the Exchequer 1993-97

In the late 1980s he had bruising battles with striking ambulance staff and doctors opposed to his NHS reforms.

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 were formed.

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.

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.

Anti-war stance

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.

Despite his defeat, opinion polls at the time suggested he was most popular Conservative politician with the British people, and the man, who is famed for his love of jazz and classic cars, has remained a big hitter with the public.

A cricket and football enthusiast, he is a fervent supporter of Nottingham Forest.

He stayed true to his cigar-chomping ways by opposing the smoking ban in England and Wales as it moved through Parliament in 2006.

Date of birth: 2 July 1940
Education: Nottingham High School; Studied law at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
He was called to the Bar in 1963, and practised on the Midland circuit
Family: Married to Gill, one son, one daughter

Following his first failed leadership bid Mr Clarke headed to the backbenches, where he largely vanished from the front line of the national political scene, with some company directorships and other pursuits helping to occupy his time.

His longstanding role as a non-executive director at British American Tobacco - from which he stepped down in 2008 - often attracted fierce criticism.

Mr Clarke remains a non-executive of Independent News and Media (UK) - publisher of the Independent newspaper - and earns fees from journalism and speaking engagements all over the world.

His continuing influence was also apparent in his ongoing membership of the Bilderberg group, an elite collection of Western thinkers and powerbrokers who meet annually to discuss global issues.

Come 2001 he was throwing his hat into the political ring again, following the resignation of William Hague as party leader, and the former chancellor made it to the final round of the ensuing leadership contest.

But Mr Clarke's hopes evaporated when the poll was opened up to party members, a majority of whom opted for Iain Duncan Smith.

He returned again to the backbenches, deciding not to stand against Michael Howard in 2003.

Mr Clarke's opposition to the Iraq war kept his name in the headlines and then he made another bid for the top job in 2005, only to be defeated by David Cameron, who has now brought him out of the wings and back under the spotlight.

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