Monthly Archives: November 2014

Jazzin’ (and votin’) with Ken

Yes, he does wear suede shoes. And yes, he is overweight. And, to judge by the way he shambled onto the stage at London’s King’s Place last night, he’s not so much a big beast of British politics, but a wounded beast showing his age.
Ken Clarke, Britain’s former Secretary of State for Almost Everything, was in conversation with Michael White, the Guardian’s former political editor.
Although, to be more accurate, Michael White tried to have a conversation with Ken Clarke.
As ever, Clarke bulldozed his way through the interview, giving White few chances to intervene or guide the flow of words and ideas. He was like a small rock standing in the way of Clarke’s progress.
A ramble through a life
The evening had begun – prior to the appearance of the man who loves a pint, a cigar and good music – with a half-hour session from a jazz trio.
It moved on from there to a brief excursion through Clarke’s upbringing in Nottinghamshire, to his grammar school education and time at Cambridge (where he studied law) and to his years as an MP, government minister and member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. “A bloody good government to have been in”, he said.
“People go into politics because they want to change things. That’s what Margaret wanted to do. When she left office, Britain was a different place. Not many Prime Ministers can claim to have done that.”
Few would argue with this view. Only, perhaps, with the manner of achieving the change.
The European question
Clarke is an avowed supporter of the European Union.
“Almost all the progress we have made in the last 40 years has been due to our position in Europe”, he said. “I believe that, if we were to leave the EU, we would be lost and diminished as a nation. No leading politician would bother to call the British Prime Minister for their view.”
He also believes that UKIP’s Nigel Farage has done Europe a great disservice by, as he put it, “conflating the immigration issue with Brussels and European Union reform”.
According to Clarke, anyone who suggests that the Conservative Party is “running scared” of UKIP is playing into Farage’s hands and, effectively, adding to UKIP’s dubious credibility.
“That’s a dangerous game to pay”, he says.
Overcoming voter apathy
As a Europhile, Clarke believes that, in order to overcome voter apathy, someone has to make the case for Europe.
“Instead of all the negativity, particularly from Farage, we need a positive message about Europe. Anyone who’s pro-Europe should be getting people enthused about the benefits of Europe, promoting the message of progress and giving them something to aspire to.”
But unlike me, Clarke doesn’t believe in compulsory voting.
“You’d get all sorts of riff-raff voting. Winos and reprobates. People who wanted to avoid the £25 fine, or whatever it might be. I’m against it, just as I’m against giving prisoners the vote.”
Instead, he firmly believes that politicians should give the voters something robust to vote for, a kind of take it or leave it approach.
In his day, he contends, politicians didn’t pay so much attention to their PR advisers.
“Margaret never read the papers or listened to opinion polls. She had her agenda and she stuck to it. Nowadays, our politicians worry too much about upsetting people and losing their vote. She didn’t care how many people she upset!”
Clarke doesn’t seem to, either.
As he left the stage, the jazz trio were reappearing, ready to serenade the man who who doesn’t care.
Or does he?
Asked if he’d have liked to have been Prime Minister, he almost roared “Yes!”
I don’t think that’s a man who doesn’t care!
I’d like to have jazzed with him.
Heck, I might even have voted for him!

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