Friday, March 06, 2009

An evening with Ken Clarke

I went to a very good dinner at Harvey Nichols last night and enjoyed the company of Ken Clarke MP QC etc. The hosts were law firm DLA Piper. I was lucky enough to be sat opposite him and took in his anecdotes about Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, John Major and his views on all kinds of characters. All unpublishable.

Anyway, his talk will form the basis of my serious business blog on Monday.

But here are a few thoughts to be getting on with.

He quipped that Margaret Thatcher was blessed by having poor quality enemies - Arthur Scargill, Michael Foot, General Galtieri and Neil Kinnock.

He said the media in this country doesn’t really cover policy. Their interest in politics is largely reduced to the level of gossip. Who’s plotting against who for which job, etc.

As a political veteran Clarke says he isn’t interested in sound bites and clever dick remarks that make him look smarter than his opposite number Peter Mandelson, who he has a high regard for. Yes, he’s in a political dog fight, but his biggest criticism of this government’s response to the financial crisis is the readiness to issue a statement of intent, but not the means to deliver the action.

He also said he has to be careful not to be an "irresponsible opposition", which I think his predecessor Alan Duncan was in danger of becoming in his hatred of Labour. A call to nationalise the banks could have dire consequences.

The message that came across is that Clarke is quietly preparing for government. Not for how he’s going to get there, but what needs to happen following a transition to power. He was scornful of the wasted years of the early Blair government, where young and inexperienced ministers arrived in office with no idea of how to drive the Whitehall machine. He didn’t say so, but David Cameron and George Osborne could face the same fate as neither has any real experience of, well, anything meaningful to holding the two highest offices of state.

He thinks Gordon Brown is beyond saving. He's doomed to failure now. His colleagues in the Tory party aren't as sure. And he does believe a hung parliament is still possible.

It was a great dinner too. Fish, chicken and a superb cheese board. As Clarke said - "the best dinner I've ever had in a supermarket canteen."

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