Monday, 26 March 2018

Book Review: Kind of Blue by Ken Clarke

Ken Clarke needs no introduction. One of the genuine 'Big Beasts' of the political scene, during his forty-six years as the Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire he has been at the very heart of government under three prime ministers. He is a political obsessive with a personal hinterland, as well known as a Tory Wet with Europhile views as for his love of cricket, Nottingham Forest Football Club and jazz. 

In Kind of Blue, Clarke charts his remarkable progress from working-class scholarship boy in Nottinghamshire to high political office and the upper echelons of both his party and of government. But Clarke is not a straightforward Conservative politician. His position on the left of the party often led Margaret Thatcher to question his true blue credentials and his passionate commitment to the European project has led many fellow Conservatives to regard him with suspicion - and cost him the leadership on no less than three occasions.

Clarke has had a ringside seat in British politics for four decades and his trenchant observations and candid account of life both in and out of government will enthral readers of all political persuasions. Vivid, witty and forthright, and taking its title not only from his politics but from his beloved Miles Davis, Kind of Blue is political memoir at its very best.

My Review: 
Ken Clarke has always been viewed as a bit of a political maverick who is not slow to disagree with his fellow Tories when he doesn't agree with them. He is well known for his pro-Europe viewpoint and refusal to compromise that opinion. I expected this to be an interesting read and it certainly was.

We read about his desire to support Harold MacMillan in the decision to join the EC as it was at the time, and of course he has supported each transformation of the European project ever since. He gives his reasons for supporting it so the reader fully understands his motivations. I was fascinated to discover that it was Ken who was responsible for the extended building of motorways and by-passes that are so important to our current travel plans around the country, despite opposition from government colleagues. If he hadn't got this through, what state would our transport system be in today? It doesn't bear thinking about. It was he and Leon Brittan who brought in the drink driving laws that try to keep us safer on the roads today. He was also firmly against the introduction of the hated Poll Tax which led to the end of the Thatcher government.

There is a lot of depth about the inner workings of the Thatcher government, which is one of the things that I really wanted to read about. Ken shares that she had as difficult a relationship with her ministers as she did with the general population of the country and he highlights things like the Westland affair to show the divisions and how she sold out other people to save her own skin. She seemed to have a determination to run everything herself which greatly annoyed her ministers. I was also unaware that she actually tried to stop the reunification of Germany, leading to a huge fallout with the German leader as you could expect. She also blamed the other departments for misleading her about Europe when she changed her mind and became a Eurosceptic, something that caused divisions in the Cabinet. This is exactly the kind of thing I like to read about with the bitching and backstabbing and plotting over important issues of the day.

My favourite bits are reading about the financial meltdown that happened with Norman Lamont carrying the can and the downfall of Thatcher herself with the leadership contests. I'm no economist but reading behind the headlines about the big Black Wednesday disaster was really interesting. I watched the TV news at the time but seeing what was going on behind the scenes to solve the problem was interesting. The downfall of Thatcher read like a minute by minute thriller with all the secret meetings and agreements, who was running or not running, who was blaming who, who was supporting each candidate, who was publicly supporting the PM and who was not. It was fascinating on every level.

It is a long book but packed full of interesting things and was easy to read. I very much enjoyed finding out more about what happened in the Thatcher era from one of the major political figures of the time.

Read September 2017.
4 stars.


  1. I have to be in the right mood, but do enjoy reading nonfiction and learning about the way of the world.
    sherry @ fundinmental

    1. For some reason I just love politics and find these books fascinating! Sometimes you're just in the mood for some non fiction. It can be a nice break from fiction.