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Kind of Blue: A Political Memoir Hardcover – 6 Oct 2016
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The long-awaited memoirs of Ken Clarke, MP
About the Author
Born in Nottingham in 1940, Ken Clarke was educated at Nottingham High School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied law and was called to the bar in 1963. In 1970, at the age of twenty-nine, he became MP for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire, a seat he has held ever since. He held many ministerial posts in Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, including Secretary of State for Health and Secretary of State for Education. He subsequently served as Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer under John Major and Secretary of State for Justice and Minister without Portfolio under David Cameron. He lives in London and Nottinghamshire.
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So what about some of the other memoirs by his contemporaries? Well closest of all comes Jack Straw's 'Last Man Standing'. Similarly unsensational and honest. A totally different character but for a me another lifetime big beast on the UK political scene (despite some recent wobbles for which he is being held to account) whose basic good intentions and honesty is never seriously in doubt. And Alistair Darling too. His 'Back from the Brink' is riveting stuff and does him great personal credit. All those 3 memoirs make essential and enoyable reading. But poles apart is Peter Mandleson's 'The Third Man' published with undignified haste in an attempt to tell you how he wants to be remembered. Lacking any depth whatsoever the book for me simply exposed his numerous weaknesses and desperate love of the limelight. A lesson for others in how not to behave! Similarly Jean Trumpington's 'Coming Up trumps' is little more than a list of names dropping. She says she hasn't grasped why she got the jobs that she was given and frankly I think every reader will draw the very same conclusion. Thumbs down for that one. Then in the middle with good and bad, dull and bright, I place the memoirs/diaries of Chris Mullin, Alan Clarke and Douglas Hurd.
How would we find our holiday reading without these memoirs from British politicians! Happy reading.
So at the least this book should be an substantial insight into modern political history right? Unfortunately not quite. Clarke gives a very traditional and 'safe' narrative of his career; actually the vast length of it mean that none of it is explored in any particular detail. Few secrets are revealed, opinions are relatively uncontroversial, his analysis of various colleagues and opponents is brief. Of course there is plenty of stuff that new and interesting - but even for the political anoraks like myself it's not exactly gripping stuff. Understandably his harshest criticism is for Cameron's decision to hold the EU referendum and subsequent defeat - but even with the institution that he holds so dear he is decidedly reserved in his judgement.
Maybe it's not fair to criticize him for writing in such a mild mannered and (pardon the pun) conservative way given that is so much of his character that people found appealing. But you get the feeling that there was a more 'honest' version of his story ready to be told, one that dealt with grittier issues that he obviously preferred to avoid.
Certainly some commentators will merely disagree with his politics, but when it comes to a pragmatic sense of secure fiscal policy and a high degree of compassion, he is head and shoulders above most - maybe nearly all.
To paraphrase Gerry Rafferty - "nutters to the left of me nutters to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you." KC guided successive governments through those turbulent times and in this book there is much in the way of illuminating explanation.
The best prime minster we never had?-- he has a good case.