Monday 6 February 2017

Why I actually quite like Ken Clarke these days

Even though I've stated many times that I don't but into the party political tribalism thing, a lot of people tend to think of me as a Labour Party supporter. I guess that's understandable given the way I've often felt compelled to offer a counter-narrative to the savage propaganda war the mainstream media are conducting against Jeremy Corbyn. I can see Corbyn's problems easily enough, but beneath his poor speaking skills and his lack of charisma, he's a decent man with strong political convictions who has been unfairly maligned by the media.

On the other side of the political spectrum there's another guy I quite like. It's obvious that I have a lot fewer political ideals in common with Ken Clarke as I do with Jeremy Corbyn, because it's pretty damned unlikely that I would share much political territory with a guy who served in the governments of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron.

On the other hand I like the way Ken Clarke has become pretty honest and outspoken in his old age.

During the shambolic post-referendum Tory leadership election he was recorded having a candid conversation with his fellow Thatcher cabinet minister Malcolm Rifkind in which he described Theresa May as "a bloody difficult woman" and blasted Michael Gove as being so fanatically right-wing that he even shocked the disgraced Liam Fox.

When it came to the Article 50 vote, Ken Clarke was the only Tory to ignore the party whip and vote against it. It's actually pretty extraordinary that he was the only one given that the majority of Tory MPs campaigned to stay in the EU. However all the rest of them were willing to follow Theresa May's lead and abandon their stated principles in order to vote in favour of this massive act of economic self-harm.

Ken Clarke's explanations over why he decided to rebel were full of more candid political insight.

Clarke on the Tory Brexit shambles
"I've never seen anything as mad or chaotic as this."
This is quite some admission from a guy who served under Margaret Thatcher (Monetarism, 20%+ interest rates, the Poll Tax fiasco), John Major (Rail privatisation, Black Wednesday) and David Cameron (the failed rush to war in Syria, six years of economically ruinous austerity).
"The government are going to extraordinary lengths to try to avoid being accountable to parliament ... It leads me to the unworthy suspicion that they don’t have a clear policy that they have agreed on, so they are trying to minimise its exposure."
It's pretty extraordinary that so little fuss has been made about Theresa May's effort to overrule parliamentary sovereignty and turn the UK into an autocracy where she alone gets to make and repeal laws. Thankfully this dictatorial power-grab was defeated by the courts, hence the hopelessly rushed and error-strewn Brexit white paper and the Article 50 vote.

Clarke on Remain voters
"It's quite obvious that some of the 16 million [Remain voters] were much bucked by the fact that somebody was still being as obdurate as I was and refusing to see why on earth they should all be abandoned. Actually, I think the 16 million were right."
It's pretty sad that the several million Tories who voted Remain are left with just one man to represent their views in parliament because the rest of the Tory MPs are determined to put pure political expediency above what they actually think is best for Britain.

Clarke on Theresa May
"I am trying to minimise giving you opportunities to attack Theresa ... [but] going to see President Trump and President Erdoğan as her first two highly publicised calls showed the limitations of 'the new global politics'."
I suppose that it's good that there's at least one person in the Tory party with a sense of distaste at Theresa May sucking up to a brutal dictator and a bigoted narcissist on the world stage.

Clarke on Donald Trump
"Well, they [the government] have got this slogan about a global Britain, so obviously they want to illustrate this by having good photo-opportunities with leading figures around the world. So I suppose they thought it was quite a political coup to finally land this first meeting with him. But it's a mixed blessing because we happen to have a rather unpleasant and highly unpredictable American president."
Clarke on the fantasy of a beneficial Tory-Trump trade deal
"It's possible that for some reason he [Trump] wants to have a trade deal with us while he's busy repudiating deals with everybody else but I don't ... think ... so."

The reason I quite like Ken Clarke is not because he was the only Tory with guts enough to stick by his principles and vote against triggering Article 50, I quite liked him before he did that.

Back in the 1980s and 90s Clarke was perfectly happy to go along with all kinds of right-wing Tory madness, and he's still a free market fanatic despite openly admitting the catastrophic failure to solve the problem of inequality.

The difference nowadays is that the political spectrum has now shifted so far to the right that a once centre-right Tory has ended up looking like a rebellious leftie these days, simply because he's pretty much stayed where he was while the rest of the Tory party has dashed off into bonkers extreme-right Ukipper territory.

Clarke is still a right-winger, and I fundamentally disagree with him on numerous issues (privatisation, 
austerity, corporate outsourcing, tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich, tax-dodging ...) but I have a certain measure of respect for him. The main reason I've got time for him these days is that as he's got old and a bit cantankerous, he's taken to quite often telling the truth and plainly expressing his views, which is pretty rare for most politicians, let alone a Tory one.

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