on 27 October 2002
The third and final volume of the Clark diaries opens with Clark on the verge of standing down as an M.P., a decision he characteristically keeps from his local constituency until some three weeks before the general election. Almost immediately he regrets no longer being on the inside of politics - the delights of Saltwood, Eriboll and the "big book" (finally published as The Tories) are not enough, not does he seem able to find the time for themselves he has been promising Jane Clark for years - and he begins to plan his return. Calling on God, whom Clark acknowledges has been more than generous already, to assist, he is, despite the publication of the first volume of the Diaries and the fury of the Coven, Matrix Churchill and the Scott enquiry, returned at the age of 69 as the member for Kensington & Chelsea,that most desirable of seats. Encouraged by what Clark considers to have been nothing short of divine intervention, Clark wonders whether it might not be his final calling to assume the leadership and save the Tory party.
Readers of the earlier volumes will not be disappointed - the fast cars, the women, the money worries, the political gossip and insight are all here. And yet this is, perhaps, a more intimate and revealing volume. Clark's relationship with God and his sense of his own mortality (and Clark did not until the very end realise how little time he had) are much more evident. Indeed it is as if Clark was consciously bringing the reader more into his confidence. The entries for the summer of 1999 when Clark's illness is finally diagnosed, are genuinely moving and, when Clark is too ill to continue, Jane Clark provides her own diary of the final few weeks of his life.
Whatever may be remembered of Clark the historian and Clark the politician, Clark the diarist has provided an unforgettable contribution to our literature.
on 23 October 2003
The majority of The Last Diaries is Clark's typical brand of frank political observation and insight, focusing on the years from the fall of Thatcher, through his retirement, to his reselection as MP for Kensington and Chelsea in 1997. This part covers some of the most interesting recent history of British politics with the fall of the Conservative party and the rise of New Labour.
The end of the book is the terribly harrowing portrayal of Clark's illness, as his hypocrondria, a feature of the previous two diaries, is suddenly vindicated. The portion his wife, Jane Clark, writes when Alan becomes too ill to write is one of the most poignant pieces non-fiction I've ever read.
A superb complement to the previous two diaries, with the three in total comprising the most thouroughly readable, enjoyable and insightful political diary of the last 30 years. An absolute must.
on 17 January 2012
The third volume of Alan Clark's Diaries are as compelling as the previous two volumes and are the equal of, if not superior to, the original volume published in 1993. In and Out of the Wilderness covers the period from 1991, when the initial volume finished, up to his death in 1999, with the final pages comprising Jane Clark's account of the illness that killed him.
The volume features much of the political intrigue that was present in Diaries: In Power - Clark details his final days in government before the 1992 general election, the fall-out surrounding publication of the volume of Diaries and the Scott Inquiry into Arms to Iraq following the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial. Even better, we are treated to the machinations of life in the Commons after the 1997 general election, at which he had been elected as MP for Kensington & Chelsea. He frequently despairs of William Hague's leadership, and enjoys calculating how he himself could become Leader of the Opposition. What is interesting with hindsight is his firm belief that the Tories failed to make ground by not being right-wing enough, when the accepted wisdom is that it was a retreat to the right that made the Conservative party unelectable. Indeed, this is a debate that continues to this day within the party, especially following Cameron's failure to win an outright majority in 2010.
We also receive insight into his turbulent personal life - the book starts with him enjoying an intense affair that leaves him contemplating leaving his wife, but as he renews his love for her we are treated to (possibly too much) information about his sex life, and the usual slew of indiscretions. It is unusual to read such a graphic account of the sex life of the over-sixties, and his accounts amount to more than mere novelty, and are most touching.
What makes this a powerful volume is the account of his swift descent in illness, and Jane's account of his final days. Clark was one of life's hypochondriacs, but his illness was fairly swift once his brain tumour was diagnosed. The end of the book is exceptionally powerful and moving, and did not leave me dry eyed. He continued to write as long as possible, and we witness him consciously taking pleasure in his favourite pleasures for the final time as well as showing great concern for how Jane would continue following his death.
Alan Clark was one of life's rogues, and whether you regard him as loveable or not is a matter of personal taste. What cannot be disputed, however, is that this is an exceptionally enjoyable volume that sees him confirm his place in the front rank of political diarists.
on 26 December 2012
During the Matrix-Churchill trial of the early 1990s, Alan Clark avoided perjuring himself under cross-examination by defence Counsel by confessing that - while Minister for Defence Procurement in a previous government - certain of his parliamentary answers regarding machine exports to Iraq had been "economical with the actualité". This last volume of Clark's diaries gives some account of that sordid episode, along with Clark's general thoughts and travails during his period out of Parliament, that is, 'in the wilderness'.
Clark quickly regrets leaving Parliament in 1992. His decision to stand-down as an MP was strange (most MPs will fight an election even if they fear losing their seat) and I find his explanation pretty lame and unconvincing. I cannot help but wonder whether in giving up his seat Clark was being prescient about Matrix-Churchill and feared that he might suffer even greater consequences if he was still sitting in Parliament. I suspect that the whole truth about that episode, and its consequences for the UK government's later policy towards Iraq, has not been fully-revealed, but for Clark the consequence was the diminishing of his political career. Clark enjoyed his French bon mots, so he may in this regard appreciate Zola's aphorism, which began: Si vous taire la vérité...but you could say this odd turn of Clark's life was testament to a saying liked and well-used by Clark and taken from Brooks's Club: ACHAB, or Anything Can Happen At Backgammon.
One of the redeeming features of the Alan Clark in these diaries is his loyalty to a kind of truth. There is public truth and then there is private truth. Clark was the type of man who would gladly dissemble for those higher up the political ladder, for the sake of his career and for the sake of the country, but at the same time admit he was a bloody idiot for doing so. It's good for us that he kept a diary that records this moral catachresis. He could never lie to himself and he doesn't lie to the reader and though his morals did occasionally go off compass, he had an uncanny knack ('uncanny' in this age of political lying and dishonesty) of telling the brutal 'personal truth' about himself and others.
Perhaps because Clark was in effect 'retired' from politics during the mid-1990s, the entries in this volume of his diaries are not as punchy and provocative as those found in the 'In Power' volume, which actually is more the classic Clark. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading 'The Last Diaries'. Clark cannot fail but to be informative and entertaining throughout. As ever, he gives his thoughts on other prominent political figures and this volume will be especially useful for those who are interested in the behind-the-scenes goings-on in the Conservative leadership during the late 1990s and early Noughties, and in particular the fallout from the 1997 landslide defeat and the ensuing battle for the leadership of the Party.
I must conclude with praise for the editor, Ion Trewin, who has done a very good job of transcribing the diaries and providing explanatory narrative and footnotes. As the great Aldous Huxley once essayed, within any kin unit there is a 'culture' which is recognised and shared by its initiates. Here, Ion Trewin captures perfectly the 'Clark culture' and the life Clark led at Saltwood and elsewhere. Even if you cannot relate to such a privileged life (and I certainly can't), you will still feel that you are, temporarily at least, one of Clark's privileged initiates as you discover, at turns, his struggles, hopes and fears, all of which he overcame with brilliance, though a brilliance that was at times marred by his sadly flawed character. It is tragic that he is no longer with us. The final entries written by his wife are deeply moving, but these diaries are a tribute to the living Clark.
on 17 May 2016
How often is it that a sequel doesn’t match the original? Clark’s great attachment for nature around him, the lyrical portrayals the flora and fauna of his Saltwood and Scottish homes are still radiant. But in and out of Parliament, the author is too self-obsessed; too much ego, too little wit; mooching about Westminster and St James’ clubs with old pals. The Whitehall insights of the earlier volume are more like chummy gossip, old opinions and domestic ups and downs in this one.
The most moving passages are at the end. Clark’s wife Jane pens a painful, honest, touching account of Clark’s final weeks with a brain tumour, and her tirelessness to make the end less of a suffering. If you really admire Clark and loved his account of ministerial years, you will probably enjoy this, but an illustrious parliamentary diary, it isn’t.
on 22 February 2016
Completes the trilogy of his diaries so is a must read. A fascinating politician of a now passed era. AC would have struggled with the present genre of politicians and had he lived, would have undoubtedly retreated to Saltwood to enjoy family and cars.
on 4 July 2014
I recently sat down and read my way through all three sets of his published diaries; it's worth noting that his most famous volume (In Power) is quite clearly the most edited. He thus reveals more of himself in the other two as he died prior to preparing them for publication. In that respect, I can do no better than repeat the quote from his colleague, Archie Hamilton; 'Why don't people realise that Alan isn't pretending to be a shit? He really is a shit.'
That doesn't undercut the strength of the last volume of his Diaries, because they show more of the inner person rather than the public image. But occasionally you have to step back and ask yourself; 'How did a man who kept a signed portrait of Hitler in his safe, never rose beyond a relatively minor political position and made a career of betraying his friends ever imagine that he might end up as Party Leader?' The extent of his self deception, with his constant Arthurian references to 'the sword in the lake', is both staggering and oddly touching.
Perhaps in his ending, which he faced with courage and acceptance, you get a glimpse of the person that he might have been, with all the extraneous persiflage stripped away.
on 23 January 2003
The wilderness years, with AC regretting his decision to leave parliament, and becoming an 'Outsider'
Then as he puts it "A right winger with a reputation for indiscretion and a lurid private life" returns triumphant to the house as MP for Kensington and Chelsea. Sadly cut off in his prime by his fatal illness, AC (and Jane's) journals for the period May to September 1999 are gut-wrenching.
A great book, even for those without a great interest in politics. Also interesting to read with the benefit of hindsight, with the current state of the Tory party.
on 1 June 2014
These final diaries should be a sympathetic read, but I found it hard to warm to the man as he faces his Maker. Regrets, he's had a few, but then again, don't mention them to the wife until you really need her support. Which you don't deserve. This was what I found the saddest part of the memoirs, that he only turns to his wife when he faces his final days. In the early pages, when Clark is still spritely, he's still having an affair or dalliance with some woman despite the fact that it is torturing his dear, sweet Janey, the wife who stays loyal to the end. He doesn't deserve her. Outside of that, I found the nicknames and abbreviations that Clark uses for cars, places, friends and foes to be rather irritating and disruptive. And, to be honest, he hasn't much else to write about as his career sinks with the Tories in Blair's Britain. If you're interested in political diaries, try those of Chris Mullen, or surprisingly Giles Brandereth or, even more surprising, Pier's Morgan's first book. All are much, much more interesting than this.
on 10 April 2004
"I SHOULD NEVER HAVE LEFT THE HOUSE OF COMMONS" 14th December 1992.
The Last Diaries of Alan Clark are just as memorable, painful and touching as the first two volumes. He writes with such honesty, style and richness of intellect that they are compulsive and addictive even though we know the end result. Clark's place in history is assured, these diaries are a must for all fans of politics or just great diaries.