My read

So, I finished my Ken Clarke bio last night. I can provide something of a review.

Obviously I was interested enough in the guy’s story to have read his book, so I naturally have a soft spot for him. But I’ve never been a Conservative supported, at least in adulthood, so there are areas of disagreement. I think it is very important, where we disagree with someone, we understand those areas where we agree, and those areas where there is difference.

Heath and Education are good examples of monolithic, nationalised industries and I can easily buy that Clarke’s reforming attitude was needed. I think it is possible to spot a trend in his beliefs, though, to run a ship as tightly as you would in the private sector. Each department delivers a particular service, and the goal was/is to deliver that service as leanly and efficiently as possible. Where I differ is that I think there is more to a nationalised industry than simply delivering the service. I think you use a nationalised industry to try and crack other problems, too. In particular with health and education, the end goals are not as obvious, say, as if you’re building a car. You can often only measure the effect of something many years later, and even then, the effect is so mixed in with other effects that it is debatable how muxh of a difference it actually made.

I’ve got more straightforward disagreements with him about the current political system. He holds FPTP up as a winning formula, and expresses satisfaction that in 2015, the extremists [his word] of UKIP received something like 12% of the vote, yet they only had one MP thanks to FPTP, and pointing out that, under a proportional system, they would have achieved around 80 seats. There, I flatly disagree with him. If a party receives 12% of the votes, then it seems perfectly proper that they should have 12% of the representation in parliament. Whatever their beliefs. And, as for “extreme”, what right does Clarke have to assert that his views are acceptable, but other people’s aren’t? I’m not sure that anybody who supported UKIP, say, would see themselves as “extreme”. I mean, I share Clarke’s view that having far right parties in parliament would be undesirable, but I’m afraid the role of parliament is to reflect public opinion, not to keep undesirables out.

My other area of disagreement is also constitutional. Clarke’s views on the relationship with the EU are well known. They happen not to be the same as mine but I really don’t mind that. But I think his views on the relevance of referendums are more significant. He argues that issues are too complex and can’t be resolved into a binary yes/no, or a short list of preferences. To a certain extent I agree, although his implication is more patronising – that an MP is fit to make decisions on the country’s future, but that I’m not. Apart from finding that suggestion offensive, I think he is correct in that you can’t determine policy vie a referendum. What you can do, however, is to establish a broad direction of travel. So, I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask a question, do you want to be in or out of the EU, and to get a sensible answer. Of course, that answer doesn’t tell us how exactly we want our future relationship to look, because that is probably far too detailed to ask in a referendum – you’d need a hundred different checkboxes to cover all the different options. As I see it, that’s where politicians come in – the people provide the direction of travel and the politicians fill in the details. I therefore have little time for “we need a second vote because parliament is deadlocked” because, frankly, the exact reason I elected these people was in order to put the flesh onto my broad instruction. So deadlock = not up to the job, as far as I’m concerned. Rather than a second vote specifically on membership on the EU, we should be having a general election to elect people who are ready and able to do this job.To get back on-topic, Clarke obviously believes that we elect somebody every five years, and thereafter, we defer every decision to them. I wish to be more involved than that.

Anyway, I shan’t get over-excited about this. I’ve always been on the left so it isn’t really any surprise that I don’t quite see eye to eye with somebody from the right.