Thursday, September 01, 2005

Maggie On Ken

It was twenty years ago today (give or take) that Maggie appointed Ken to his first Cabinet post. He'd already been an MP for fifteen years and was fully six years older than David Cameron is now.

Obviously he and Maggie were some way apart politically, but after six years of government she did eventually recognise his ability. In The Downing Street Years she wrote (in a polite echo of LBJ's famous remark):

'There are some people that it is better to bring in because they would cause more trouble outside. Peter Walker and Ken Clarke are examples.'

In 1988, keen to press on with her NHS reforms, and slightly despairing of her protege, John Moore, she made Ken Health Secretary. She obviously had some doubts because:

'As he was to demonstrate during the short period in which he was my Secretary of State for Education (when he publicly discounted my advocacy of education vouchers), Ken was a firm believer in state provision.'

But she saw in Ken 'an energetic and persuasive bruiser', exactly what she needed to take on the BMA and the entrenched legions of the NHS:

'Ken Clarke was the best possible advocate we could have. Not being a right-winger himself, he was unlikely to talk the kind of free-market language which might alarm the general public and play into the hands of the trade unions. But he had the energy and enthusiasm to argue, explain and defend what we were doing night after night on television.'

Which seems spot on in terms of Ken's strengths. She had devised the strategy (including all the various innovations like trust hospitals, that these days Ken implies were his idea). But she was pushing the programme forward using one of the best briefs in the business.

Of course, Maggie also saw weaknesses, quite apart from their philosophical differences:

'What I was less convinced about, however, was whether Ken and the DH had really thought through the detailed implementation of what we were doing and foreseen the transitional difficulties as we moved from one system to another.'

In fact she was very concerned about it.

Again, that sounds spot on. Ken comes over as very much a big picture arm waving kind of guy. Not a man you'd expect to get involved in too much tedious detail, particularly on such mind-deadening stuff as restructuring bureaucracies.

So what did she think about him as a future leader? She set out a list of seven possibles from her next generation, two of whom- Major and Howard- did subsequently get a turn.

Of the remainder, the only one still standing is Ken. All the others have sensibly recognised their time has passed and hung up their dancing clogs.


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