No regrets for Ken Clarke as he bows out of Parliament after 49 years
Former chancellor Ken Clarke has said he has no regrets as he stands down as an MP after 49 years in the Commons.
The Father of the House – a title bestowed on the longest continually serving parliamentarian – said he was enjoying the job as much as he did when he first arrived in Westminster in 1970.
In a career spanning almost half a century, he has served in numerous government posts under Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron.
He said he was “not that bothered” about standing down because he had been planning it for so long, but admitted: “I suppose I ought to feel more emotional than I do but I don’t.”
Asked if he had any regrets, he told the PA news agency: “Not at all. I’ve enjoyed it.
“I had this mad idea I wanted to be an MP, became an MP quite young, loved it from the first moment and just immersed myself in it, I greatly enjoy it.
“I am still a political addict – I enjoy it as much as I did in the first year I was here.”
Often described as the “best prime minister Britain never had”, he said it was a “great club to belong to because nobody ever knows how bad you might have been”.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wanted to be prime minister – it was one of my bad habits to keep standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party. I was too pro-European.”
Mr Clarke described how Parliament had a “public school atmosphere” when he arrived, but his intake of MPs – a “post-war, social mobility generation” – was the first to start changing it.
“It was more formal, but very high powered… much more powerful – vis-a-vis the government – than it is now.
“It was an age of deference still – it was held in very high regard and in critical regard by the public.
“We’ve now gone to the other extreme – the public hold Parliament in a slightly brainless way, in near contempt – convinced that somehow the MPs are all only pursuing their own interests. It was the complete contrast in the old days.”
Mr Clarke said there was “very little” constituency work then, and free postage and stationery for MPs had only just been introduced.
“It was a very limited amount, you had to go and sign for your allocation. Most MPs didn’t use it – we got very few letters.
“We now all have large staffs and mountains of mail and emails and everything else, and you’re really the equivalent of the Citizens Advice bureau.
“In terms of holding the Government to account, increasingly we’ve had governments who resent being held to account, who think Parliament is a nuisance, their press officers can’t control the publicity that comes out of it, and so it really ought not to discuss anything serious.
“And trying to bully the Speaker into making sure it never has anything very serious to consider – that’s grown ever since Tony Blair and its been getting very strong recently. But for (John) Bercow the Parliament would have been left discussing nothing in particular most days.”
He criticised the lack of collective responsibility in recent cabinets and claimed many ministers have “no idea” about current policy.
Reminiscing about Mrs Thatcher’s tight ship, Mr Clarke said: “We used to have bloody great arguments… but it was the cabinet that made government policy.
“If you look back over the last month or two and this Brexit crisis, most of the Cabinet have no idea what the policy is – they’ve got no more idea than I have.”
Asked if advisers now yield too much power, he replied: “We don’t want a half-baked presidential system with a president who isn’t really accountable to Parliament or the courts or anybody else.”