Politician & Activist

Kenneth Clarke

Kenneth Clarke is a British Conservative Party politician who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1993 to 1997 and Home Secretary from 1992 to 1993.

Clarke was the Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire from 1970 to 2019.

Between 2017 and 2019 he was the Father of the House of Commons. While he still remains a member of the Conservative Party, the Conservative whip was withdrawn from him on 4 September 2019 because he and 20 other MPs voted with the Opposition on a motion; for the remainder of his time in Parliament he sat as an independent, though still in the government benches.

Clarke, described by the press as a ‘Big Beast’ of British politics, has served in the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Education Secretary, Health Secretary and minister without portfolio.

He has been the President of the Tory Reform Group since 1997. Clarke identifies with economically and socially liberal views.

  • Full name: Kenneth Harry Clarke CH QC
  • Profession: British politician
  • Born: 2 July 1940 (age 79 years), West Bridgford
  • Spouse: Gillian Edwards (m. 1964–2015)
  • Previous offices: Minister without portfolio (2012–2014), MORE
  • Education: Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge, Nottingham High School
  • Children: Kenneth Bruce Clarke, Susan Clarke
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About Kenneth Clarke

Clarke was born in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, and was christened with the same name as his father, Kenneth Clarke, a Nottinghamshire mining electrician and later a watchmaker and jeweller.

He won a scholarship to attend the independent Nottingham High School before going to read for a law degree at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated with an upper second honours degree.

Clarke initially held Labour sympathies, and his grandfather was a Communist, but while at Cambridge he joined the Conservative Party.

As Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA), Clarke invited former British Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley to speak for two years in succession, prompting some Jewish students (including his future successor at the Home Office, Michael Howard) to resign from CUCA in protest.

Howard then defeated Clarke in one election for the presidency of the Cambridge Union Society, but Clarke subsequently became President of the Cambridge Union a year later, being elected on 6 March 1963 by a majority of 56 votes.

Clarke opposed the admission of women to the Union, and is quoted as saying upon his election, “The fact that Oxford has admitted them does not impress me at all. Cambridge should wait a year to see what happens before any decision is taken on admitting them.”

In an early-1990s documentary, journalist Michael Cockerell played to Clarke some tape recordings of Clarke speaking at the Cambridge Union as a young man, and he displayed amusement at hearing his then-stereotypical upper-class accent.

Clarke is deemed one of the Cambridges Mafia, a group of prominent Conservative politicians who were educated at Cambridge in the 1960s.

After leaving Cambridge, Clarke was called to the bar in 1963 at Gray’s Inn, and “took silk” (was promoted to Queen’s Counsel) in 1980.


Clarke contested the Conservative Party leadership three times—in 1997, 2001 and 2005—being defeated each time.

Opinion polls indicated he was more popular with the general public than with his party, whose generally Eurosceptic stance did not chime with his pro-European views.

He is President of the Conservative Europe Group, Co-President of the pro-EU body British Influence and Vice-President of the European Movement UK.

Clarke was one of only five ministers (Tony Newton, Malcolm Rifkind, Patrick Mayhew and Lynda Chalker are the others) to serve throughout the whole 18 years of the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, which represents the longest uninterrupted Ministerial service in Britain since Lord Palmerston in the early 19th century.

He returned to government in 2010 and his total time as a minister is the fifth-longest in the modern era after Winston Churchill, Arthur Balfour, Rab Butler, and Spencer Cavendish.

He has spent over 20 years serving under Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron.