Tuesday, 6 October 2009

I only get overweight on quality food

“After Douglas-Home I wondered whether we could ever really have another old Etonian Prime Minister,” pondered Andrew Rawnsley.

The Observer man was interviewing Ken Clarke just now and was probing around the issue of Eton – Cameron’s old school – to see whether the shadow business secretary might trip up.

Clarke answered: “We’ve removed all the barriers against women, against ethnic minorities and against gays – I think old Etonians deserve a break.”

Brilliant stuff. But can you imagine if any other member, save William Hague perhaps, told a joke like that. They’d be crucified, only Clarke can get away with it.

And that was a thought that kept recurring as I listened to him at the Observer fringe meeting here in Manchester.

He soundly ripped it out of meddling bureaucrats who tell him how many vegetables to eat, campaigners who zealously pursue the anti-smoking agenda – “next we’ll only be able to do it under supervision and if we have counselling afterwards” – and people who jog in the morning.

“I only get overweight on quality food. None of this junk rubbish,” he said.

What was really gripping was the history though, right from the days at Cambridge – where he fell out with Michael Howard after inviting Oswald Mosley to address students.

He said Mosley was a dangerous speaker – but that you couldn’t help respect his oratory talent. Clarke even took him out for dinner once.

Then there were the Thatcher years. When she asked him to take over the Department for Transport he told her he didn’t know the first thing about transport politics.

“My dear boy,” she told him. “You’ll soon pick it up.”

He noted that Thatcher always sent him to the job where an unpopular decision needed to be taken. Nothing he ever did in Government was popular, he said.

He told how in 1981 people hated what the Tories were doing, but by 1983 they had realised that it needed to be done.

Espousing the proper way of Government he said: “You trusted my judgement. Then in four years time if you don’t like what I’ve done it’s your right to throw me out.”

Not a fan of referenda then.

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