Ken Clarke’s Memoirs and the June 23 Brexit referendum

Sooner or later, we are going to get very bored by Brexit, but not for a while, given the number of publications pouring from the presses.

Here are two books on the subject. Ken Clarke’s Kind of Blue: A Political Memoir (MacMillan, 2016) is a must read for anyone interested in the past fifty years of British politics, covering the years from the UK’s failed bids to enter the EEC/EU in the 1960s, to the Heath entry of 1972, and the Cameron exit in 2016-an exit which would not have been  put into effect, if Clarke had had anything to do with it. The June 23 result was, writes Clarke, nothing more than an angry protest vote.

The second book is Tim Shipman’s fly-on-the wall, blow-by-blow, menu-by-menu account of the referendum campaign. All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class, (William Collins, 2016) is based on  extensive interviewing, and provides a text book example of how the media, and PR specialists, have hi-jacked politics in the UK. Indeed, from 1997 on, two PR professionals, Cameron and Blair, took the helm of the UK.

In Part I, I shall first of all review Ken Clarke’s life, then develop some of the main themes in his book, particularly his consistent enthusiasm for the EEC/EU; then ask the question: what went wrong with the project to which Clarke devoted his political life. In Part II, I’ll review Shipman’s All Out War, hailed by Dominic Cummings, as the best book out on the campaign.  The book focuses on  the years 2013 to June 2016, when the referendum was announced by Cameron to the moment when the Prime Minister tendered his resignation.

Ken Clarke’s  early life.

Clarke was born in 1940 in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire in the heart of coal mining country to a working class family. Very early on, his political bent was shaped by his reading of the Daily Mail, despite the influence of his grandfather who was a communist and thought that Uncle Joe (Stalin) had created a worker’s paradise in the Soviet Union. He took the eleven plus exam, and became  a pupil at Nottingham High School, courtesy as he acknowledges of Rab Butler’s 1944 Education Act, producing “one of the UK’s brief phases of meritocracy and social mobility”. There, he played games, became an ardent train spotter (like many children of his generation), and started his lifelong enthusiasm for jazz. His chapter headings, like his book title, have subheadings nicely chosen from the greats of the jazz world.

As a scholarship boy, he won an exhibition to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he switched from the study of history to law, graduating with an upper second honours degree. At Cambridge, he joined the Conservative Party, being attracted to One Nation Conservatism, in the tradition of Disraeli, Churchill and MacMillan. As Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association, he invited the former British fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley-an ardent supporter of the EEC—to speak for two successive years, prompting some Jewish students, including his friend Michael Howard, to resign from the Association in protest. Howard then defeated Clarke for the presidency of the prestigious Cambridge Union Society, a post to which Clarke was elected a year later.  There is a photo in the book of the fledgling political stars, known as the Cambridge Mafia, including Michael Howard-his successor at the Home Office, Norman Lamont, the future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dick Taverne, who left Labour later to join the Liberals, and Angus Maude, a big wheel in the Cameron-Lib Dem coalition of 2010-2015. Clarke left Cambridge,  was called to the Bar at Grey’s Inn, and “took silk” (became a Queen’s Counsel) in 1980.

Political career.

But his heart was in politics, and in June 1970, he won the East Midlands constituency of Rushcliffe, south of Nottingham. In 1972, he was appointed a Chief Whip, and helped to ensure that Prime Minister Heath’s government won key votes on entry to the EEC, with the assistance of Labour rebels, led by Roy Jenkins, later appointed as President of the EEC Commission. Despite his not supporting Margaret Thatcher’s bid to lead the party, she appointed him as her industry spokesman in opposition, and subsequently appointed him to senior ministerial office during her eleven year premiership. As his autobiography makes clear, Clarke was definitely “one of us”-a free marketeer.

His first major job was as Minister of State for Health (1982–85). He joined the Cabinet as Paymaster-General and Employment Minister (1985–87), and served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of the Department of Trade and Industry (1987–88) with responsibility for Inner Cities. He returned to a revamped Department of Health and Social Security in 1988, and just over two years later he was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Works in the final weeks of Thatcher’s Government.  Clarke was the first Cabinet Minister to advise Thatcher to resign in  November 1990, an incident she referred to in her memoirs in the following terms: “his manner was robust in the brutalist style he has cultivated: the candid friend”.

Under Thatcher’s successor, Clarke continued for a couple of years in Education, and then in March 1993, became Chancellor of the Exchequer, replacing Norman Lamont—one of the Cambridge Mafia, after the latter’s credibility had been trashed when sterling crashed out of the ERM on September 16, 1992. Clarke then enjoyed four very successful years as Chancellor, having benefitted by the new monetary policy put into effect by his predecessor after the ERM fiasco. The government books were brought towards balance, a policy continued by Gordon Brown during New Labour’s first period in office from 1997 to 2001. Clarke favoured the UK’s entry to the Euro, on the grounds that the natural complement to a single market in the EU was a single currency.

Back on the opposition benches during New Labour’s long tenure in office, from 1997 to 2010,  Clarke lost the contest for the leadership of the Conservative party three times in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Had he made it to the top, the UK’s history would have been very different. But in the wake of the ructions over the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, there was a marked cooling of Tory support for the EU project to which Clarke remained firmly wedded. He also opposed the Blair government’s policy over Iraq, against his own party’s position, and made clear his disapproval of David Cameron’s efforts to ingratiate himself with Tory backbenchers increasingly opposed to the thrust of EU developments.

In Cameron’s first government in coalition with the Lib Dems (2010-2015), as his autobiography makes clear, Clarke found more in common with his coalition partners than he did with his own party. As Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, he ploughed a liberal furrow on sentencing, but ran into sharp criticism over his support for secret trials in the legislation, which originated in civil cases brought by former Guantanamo detainees, alleging the complicity of the government intelligence and security agencies (MI6 and MI5) in their rendition and torture. But in 2012, Cameron edged him sideways, and in the 2014 government reshuffle, Clarke stepped down from government, to return to the backbenches, after a total of over twenty years in high office.

It was no surprise that he opposed the Brexit referendum of June 23 2016, and voted against Prime Minister May’s policy to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, opening the way for a member state to negotiate withdrawal from the EU.

Private life

In his autobiography, Clarke makes clear that throughout his life he kept his private life apart from public life.  He met Gillian  in Cambridge, and they married in 1964. She gave up her career as an academic and stayed as “my rock” for the fifty years that they were married until her untimely death in 2015. In addition to his passion for jazz, and his predilection for cigars, in the early 1980s, he developed a sideline to politics as a bird watcher. He tells of the time that as a novice, equipped with bright new binoculars, they visited a seal sanctuary in Cornwall. Gillian and their friends went off down the steep path to the sanctuary. The day was damp and drizzly, and on their return, they found him crouching in a ditch, peering at a small bird in a hedge, while slowly turning the pages of a book to find its identity . As  “I got past the hawks and seagulls…making painfully slow progress, Gillian walked up behind me and said, “It’s a blue tit. We have lots of them in  the garden”. Over his lifetime, Clarke records that he has seen 3000 different species of bird.

Clarke has been always someone to speak his mind. The principle of free speech, he writes-in relation to his invitation to the British fascist leader of the 1930s, Sir Oswald Moseley, to speak at the Cambridge Union,-should extend to hearing arguments you disagree with. True to form, he was the first Minister to tell Margaret Thatcher that she should step down as Prime Minister. He never deviated from his enthusiastic support for the EU. But he was also convinced that reticence is at times advisable. On immigration, for instance, he favoured moderation on the grounds that the public’s xenophobia should not be needlessly stirred.

As a big beast in the political jungle, Clarke has much to say about the Prime Ministers of his time.  On Heath, he is surprisingly critical, surprisingly because he began his political career under Heath, and is often credited with being a Heathite. He makes plain that this is not the case. He disagreed with him about the EU’s future shape, about which I comment further down this review, and he did not rank him highly either as Prime Minister, or as a leader. When Heath was trying to cling on to his leadership of the Tory party, Clarke records the remark of Kenneth Lewis, MP for Rutland, that the  the Whips should tell “that silly man” that he had been defeated. Heath, Clarke added, was incapable of having normal friendly relations with people, stood aloof from colleagues, and conducted a personal style of government.

For Clarke, Thatcher was the greatest Prime Minister of his time. She ran, he writes, a genuinely collective government, with strong departmental ministers, whom she was prepared to engage in fierce discussions. Fierce because the discussions were about whether the proposal under consideration was in the public interest. She practiced conviction politics, presided over a near revolution in the UK business and economic environment, and played a major role in the creation of the EU’s single market. But he is also critical of her attempts to stall German unity and her opposition to the creation of the Euro.  Her opposition to the Euro, well justified though it was,  led to her political demise; her efforts to stall German unity ran contrary to UK commitments to consider West Germany  as provisional.

The chapter on John Major is titled “Off Minor”, a composition by Thelonius Monk  His sympathies are with Thatcher’s successor, who was never able to establish command over the Cabinet in the way of his predecessor, in particular following the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, and sterling’s ejection from the ERM in September 1992.  Major nonetheless won the election of  April 9, 1992. That day, the Sun’s headlines ran: “the last person to leave Britain”,  please “turn out the lights” if Labour wins. The election turnout of 77.67% was the highest in 18 years, and was the last outright Conservative win until 2015. Although the percentage of Conservative votes was only 0.3% down on 1987, the Conservative overall majority was reduced to 21. This was whittled away progressively during the course of Major’s term in office due to defections of MPs to other parties, by-election defeats, and for a time in 1994–95 the suspension of the Conservative whip for some MPs who voted against the government on its European policy . B@0y 1996, the Conservative majority had been reduced to just 1 seat.  The May 1997 general election yielded a Labour 418 seats, and a parliamentary majority of 179. The two chapter on the Tories thirteen years in the UK political wilderness are entitled ‘Time out”, David Brubeck 1959, and Plucked Again,Duke Ellington, 1950, (the 1939 edition here,

The seeds of the Brexit vote of June 23 2016, were sown also in the Blair years. Blair and Cameron-the self proclaimed “heir to Blair”- adopted the mass media campaigning which Thatcher despised, and it is fair to say, that Clarke does, too. “The Thatcher government would never have pursued our political agenda, if she or anyone else had paid too much notice to newspaper or opinion polls”. He is rightly critical of Gordon Brown’s tax and spend policies, and he notably opposed Blair’s taking the country to war over Iraq in 2003. On Cameron’s calling of a referendum on Brexit, he is scathing: “Cameron’s gamble turned out to be the worst political mistake undertaken by any British Prime Minister in my lifetime”.

Parliament and government

Two key events in his early years are his visit to the Commons, where he saw Churchill,  and absorbed “the extraordinary Victorian atmosphere of an institution still at its height”. The second was his reflections in the years following the Suez crisis of 1956 which played a part “in forming my lifelong opinion on Britain’s role in the modern world and the end of our national delusions of being a Victorian imperial power in the new global order”.

When he entered parliament in 1970, the Commons featured a marked class divide between the two main parties, and a macho culture–there were few women, and those who were there, he observed,  had to be made of steel. He recalls Ian Paisley addressing the House in  a stentorian voice, loud enough, the joke went, to be heard on the other side of the Irish Sea.  The Tory back benches were still full of the knights of the shire–with names like Sir Tufton Beamish, or Admiral Morgan-Morgan Giles. One of the shortest speeches he heard was the Admiral’s “Pro bono publico, no bloody panico”, in defiance of the convention in the Tory party’s “1922 Committee”, that whoever spoke first was mad.  “ I spent my career, says Clarke,  observing the steady decline of Parliament’s influence on public life whilst the campaigning power of the media steadily grew.” Over the years, all political parties, he observes, lost their ability to attract a large volunteer membership, and local associations became dominated by rather reactionary, right wing people. Clarke’s measure for being right wing is hostility to the EU: he defines it as “a form of isolationist nationalism, which became known as Euroscepticism”..

Clarke spent over 20 years of his political life in senior offices of government, and most of those in positions which advanced the Thatcher agenda of more power to markets. At the Department of Trade and Industry, he announced the sale of British Aerospace and The Rover Group. At Health, he introduced the controversial “internal market” concept. At Education, he confronted but barely dented the deeply engrained left-wing culture, which prioritized the needs of the professionals working in it. As Home Secretary, he confronted the formidable police federation. Arguably, his most successful stint was as Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he presided over four years of steady growth, and improved public finances.

Two incidents are worth recording. Ministerial office served for Clarke, as for others, as a tutorial, especially in international affairs. As Secretary for the Department of Trade and Industry, Clarke observed that the Airbus programme was not turning a profit. Soon enough, he received an invitation to visit Franz-Josef Strauss, the formidable “uncrowned” King of Bavaria, and founder of the four nation Airbus project. Strauss explained that the objective was not to earn a return for the government shareholders. Its aim was to employ an industrial workforce of highly skilled people who would continue to vote for centre-right governments, rather than for communists or socialist fellow travelers.

The other incident relates to his travels as Chancellor. During his time, he met all the major movers and shakers of international finance, including Bob Rubin, Alan Greenspan, and Manmohan Singh.  “I discovered, he writes, that in the late twentieth century, only the American voice and the American dollar really counted when fast-moving emergencies occurred”.

Both of these stories are highly significant: Strauss opened a perspective on the very different criteria against which corporate finance is measured among the UK’s partners on the continent; Rubin had to teach the UK Chancellor that the dollar was not king, but emperor. Insularity, it would seem, is not restricted to Eurosceptics.


As Clarke repeatedly states, he has always been an enthusiastic European, by which he means a convinced supporter of the European Union project. But nothing is simple, as Clarke is candid enough to make clear. For one, he claims that he is not an EU federalist/supra-nationalist.

Here is a recorded exchange with Edward Heath in the corridors of the House of Commons after he, Heath, had lost office. “I had for some reason been stressing the need to explain that the European Community was not a federal organization,, but was destined to become a Union of Nation States bound together by a treaty. Ted angrily dismissed this. He brusquely said that in his opinion the age of the nation state was now over. He never gave the opportunity of undertaking himself the Herculean task of selling that proposition to the British political class and the public, and he would never have succeeded in persuading even me”.

A number of points may be made here.

The first is the extraordinary statement by the former Prime Minister of the UK that the days when a country could be politically independent were gone. There is no evidence whatsoever for this conviction. As a matter of fact, there were 51 members of the UN in 1945 at its creation, and over 180 at the time that Heath left office. There are over 200 at the time of writing. Practically all of the major developments in world affairs had been about peoples claiming the privilege of sovereignty to run their own affairs. Sovereignty did not mean “isolation”, except to North Korea, China, Albania and the Soviet Union. Australia, for instance, has ninety missions with other countries; Canada has diplomatic and consular offices in over 170 territories; India’s diplomatic network is even more extensive.  Australia, Canada and India all belong to a wide variety of international organisations. Their diplomacy is conducted through both bilateral and multilateral channels, but not through supranational channels.  Yet Remainers kept hammering Heath’s argument in the course of the May-June 2016 referendum on Brexit.  It was one, a minor reason admittedly, why Remainers lost. Their arguments about sovereignty were just not credible, and-more importantly-not the issues that concerned voters directly.Sovereignty was what pundits talked about (See my blog on a Chatham House report about Brexit:

Second, Clarke implies that getting the public to get to like the EU was in part a presentational problem. Like many of the UK’s EU supporters, Clarke complains about a Eurosceptic press. If only, the assumption seems to be, the media had remained pro EU, as in the early years of UK membership. Only the FT, The Economist, the Guardian, The Independent   and the BBC stayed on message. All the big circulation papers, Clarke maintains, became Eurosceptic. The Berry family, he records, sold the Daily Telegraph to the Canadian, Conrad Black, who replaced the pro-EU editor Max Hastings, with Charles Moore. Moore “quickly assembled a team of journalists to pursue the anti-European aspects of Conrad’s political agenda”. At the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere replaced David English with the strongly anti-EU Paul Dacre. Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media mogul, owned the mass circulation The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times.

The argument of a Eurosceptic press getting in the way of a pro EU message from the enlightened few to the general British public does not stand close examination. The British press has a long and raucous history, particularly in the late eighteenth century when the challenge from France came to dominate foreign affairs. Jacques Delors’ ambitions to create a European federation, whence 80% of laws would come, aroused this vein in the UK’s collective memory. Here was a Frenchmen with Napoleonic ambition once again menacing the liberties of this sceptered isle. The moment when  Euroscepticism was given its lead may be dated from Thatcher’s “No,no,no” to Delors’ vision. (

Nonetheless, the pro-EU media rode the wave. The BBC remained by far the prime source of news in the UK; the Sun, with sales of just under 4 million, backed  Thatcher, dropped Major-definitely pro EU- for Blair, -arguably as pro EU as Heath-and dropped Brown to give reluctant support to Cameron. More importantly, decline in the circulation of newspapers accelerated in the opening years of the new millennium, as multimedia outlets proliferated. Mastery of the complex media environment became a key stake in the lead up to the referendum of June 23 2016. What is true is the centre to centre left newspapers nosedived: in 1992, the year when the single currency deal was sealed in the Maastricht Treaty, the combined circulation of pro EU up market titles (The FT, The Guardian, The Independent) was about one million; by 2015, their combined circulation had fallen to 400,000, The circulation of Eurosceptic newspapers, though down, was 8 times greater.

The EU: from entry to exit.

Not surprisingly, it is the EU which occupies centre stage in Clarke’s autobiography. Initially, his reminiscence is triumphant, in the vein of Prime Minister Heath’s main accomplishment of bringing the UK into the EEC. The pro Europeans won the resounding parliamentary victories of 1972-73. Their argument was that a pooling of sovereignty was inevitable in the twentieth century, and was already in effect through membership of the UN and NATO. Opposed were Labour, which at the time considered the EEC to be a capitalist plot-the position long held by Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s new leader, and his henchman Seamus Milne, who is on record as considering that Stalin did a good job. The antis were also, writes Clarke, well represented in the old imperial right, and in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Clarke’s history is tendentious, it should be said: the UN Charter expressly stated that member states were in their rights to make their own decisions, while NATO would never have come about if in Article 5, Congress had not insisted that member states retained their own discretion over matters of war and peace. As for the “old imperial right”, Peter Shore was a free trader; Enoch Powell defined the Commonwealth as the ghost sitting upon the grave of empire. Nonetheless, both tropes had a long life ahead of them.

What is definitely true is that the UK economy at the time was a basket case. Heavy industry, largely state-owned, was characterized by overmanning; under-investment; poor design, and loss of market share. Heath attempted to introduce  statutory law to the area of labour relations, and met with mass strikes by the trade unions, which were the prime source of support for the Labour party and at the time run by communist or ex communist-party members, sympathetic to Breschnev’s Soviet Union. One clear motive of joining was to bring more discipline to corporate affairs by  market opening to the EEC, and, it was hoped by riding the wave of growth, known in France as “les trente glorieuses”.

But the UK entered the EC precisely at the moment that the bloc’s growth stalled. Intra-EEC exchange rates had been predicated on a stable dollar; on August 15, 1971, Nixon launched the world onto the paper dollar standard, resulting in currency fluctuations in the EEC . Meanwhile, the devaluation of the dollar prompted oil producers to hike their prices: in October 1973, oil prices, driven in particular by Iran, were raised by a factor of four. The coal miners, led by the far left Joe Gormley, went on strike in favour of higher wages. Heath decided to go to the country on the platform of whether it was the miners or Heath who ran the country. The electorate answered by returning Labour with a four seat margin in parliament.

It was the Labour left that introduced the referendum for the first time in British political history. This proved a major blow to the tradition of parliamentary sovereignty. Up to that moment, the referendum device was abhorred by politicians across the UK political as the tool of dictators. But parliament had voted away its supremacy in the 1972 European Communities Act, and the referendum was the device chosen by the radical Tony Benn to put the central question of where power resided to the electorate. Heath had persuaded parliament to mute its right of scrutiny, giving greater additional discretionary powers to Whitehall to legislate for the UK in the Council of Ministers and through the EU ambassadors, assembled in the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER). The 1975 referendum was won with a 65% Remain victory over Leave. As Clarke admits, the key arguments against the EEC, in 1975 as in 1972, turned on the issue of sovereignty—simply, on who makes the laws for the UK. As the EEC morphed into the EU, the answer increasingly spelt “Brussels”. Forty years later, the winning Leave slogan was “we want our country back”.

As Clarke’s account progresses into the 1980s, the tone gets more defensive. He records how Thatcher became persuaded that the EU  was becoming “some sort of a federalist plot”. He covers the UK’s disastrous entry to the exchange rate mechanism (1990-1992) supported by nearly all the Great and the Good, and then records how sterling crashed out in September 1992. Obviously, it dented their credit. The ERM had been sold to the British public as a guarantee of stability; instead, the UK imported sky high interest rates, killed off thousands upon thousands of new firms that had begun to grow during the Thatcher years; experienced low growth and rising unemployment; and in Clarke’s own words, shattered Conservative party unity.

The least that might be said about such an outcome is that this was surely a very high domestic price to pay to be able to sit at the table during negotiations on the single currency, conducted essentially to a Franco-German script, and ending with the UK opting out of the single currency, but signing up to the Maastricht Treaty, with its very clear federalist agenda. Clarke writes that Maastricht induced Tory backbench fury, giving rise to “ a form of isolationist nationalism, which became known as Euroscepticism”.

Had he read French, he might have known that Mitterrand told his Finance Minister, Bérégovoy, who wanted the UK on board, that “Europe” would never be made with the UK, but only with Germany. Mitterrand added that Bérégovoy had therefore to accept all the demands of the Bundesbank on the single currency. (Eric Aeschimann, Pascal Riché, La Guerre de Sept Ans, Histoire secrete du franc fort 1989-1996, Paris, Calmann-Lévy1996, pp. 90-93). Clarke was perhaps unwittingly saying the same thing. No wonder he never won the leadership of the Conservative party.

Clarke firmly believes that a single market requires a single currency. But he is being naïve. The single market is not a single market: services are barely included. And the single currency is shared by member states, at varying levels of industrialization, with different specialisms, quite distinct political cultures and business systems. The economic and finance ministers in ECOFIN, he writes, did a good job in setting the rules for the single currency, “ but our successors made a complete mess of implementing the project”. They did not, he rightly points out, implement their own rules. Italy, he points out, was admitted to the Eurozone, without meeting the criteria. He could have added the same for Belgium. Worse, he writes, Greece and Portugal were admitted. France and Germany ditched the budget rules in 2002-03 when it suited them, and after the financial crash of 2007-08, the no bailout clause was breached as Germany and others began to rescue bankrupt governments.

His explanation for why this happened is that the strong leaders of the 1990s were replaced by dodgers in the 2000s. But this is naive, too. An extremely ambitious project such as a shared currency involving a host of disparate member states could not be realistically expected to fly if it relied on the right personalities turning up in office at the right time and implementing policies agreed on by their predecessors in different political and economic circumstances.

What is more, Clarke seriously underestimates the continued inter-state rivalry among EU member states, in particular the enduring differences between France and Germany since the very foundation of the currency project. France entered the single currency negotiations in the hope that the workings of the integration process would lead towards a large EU budget, to be used for countercyclical purposes; Germany from the start, insisted on no bail out. When Germany and France did agree on bailouts, it was not to rescue bankrupt governments as Clarke maintains, but to rescue their own banks which had lent to Club Med countries.

Concluding remarks.

Ken Clarke’s book is a must read for those who wish to track the road to  June 23, 2016. He charts correctly all the points at which the UK slowly took leave of the EU: non membership of the Euro; non participation in the Schengen open borders policy; the bogus reasons that Blair adduced to take the UK into the Iraq war; Cameron’s various steps to appease his backbench Eurosceptics;  his regular mishandling of relations with the EU, and his adoption of Eurosceptic rhetoric before taking the lead of the Remain campaign, and seeking to convince the country of the benefits of EU membership.

Clarke rightly castigates Brown for the mess that he made of the UK economy. Labour not only opened UK frontiers wide to mass immigration; by expanding in-work tax credits, Brown ensured that the government subsidized low wages, thereby turning the UK into a low pay, low productivity economy. After 2010, growth and hence tax revenues became dependent on ever more immigration to keep the growth figures positive. Farage seized the chance offered him. The UKIP leader, writes Clarke, always realized that xenophobic and dog whistle arguments would win him more votes. A more accurate interpretation would be that Farage identified the Remainer’s Achilles heal: immigration was top of voters concerns for over a decade; none of the main political parties bothered to listen, and then act; Cameron finally pledged to reduce it to tens from hundreds of thousands. But the UK’s membership of the EU made clear that the UK could not control immigration from the EU. Cameron’s peldge, like much else during his premiership, proved a hostage to fortune. Gross immigration rose to 600,000 a year on Cameron’s watch.

When accused of racism, Farage said he wanted to bring the best to Britain from anywhere around the world. The message was popular. As Clarke rightly points out, had the UK electoral system been based on proportional representation, the 2014 general election would have delivered UKIP not one, but 80 members of parliament. The writing for Brexit was already on the wall prior to June 23.

Clarke ends his memoirs with a short assessment of his 50 years in UK politics: the country has modernized; today’s multinational and multicultural society is stronger, he says, than when he entered politics.

But he also failed, as did Heath, Major, Blair, and Cameron to sell the EU project convincingly to the British electorate. He tended to state his conviction, but failed to argue it. He labelled Eurosceptics as insular, reactionary or right wing. But labelling is not argument. His knowledge of Europe was patchy. His view of British history, too, seems limited to the nineteenth century; nowhere in his memoirs is there an appreciation that the UK constitution dates at least to 1689. He dismisses concerns about the federal direction of the EU project, as though extended majority voting in Council; the powers of the Commission on trade and in the proposal of legislation; the claims of the European Court of Justice to ever wider swathes of law; the ambitions of the European parliament; or the European Central Bank, were not manifest demonstrations that the EU was indeed tending to a federal endpoint.

As many another Big Beast of British politics, who had attached his flag to the Heathite mast of EUintegration, he played a minimal role in the 2016 referendum. The results of June 23 killed the Heath project. Clarke does not quote his nemesis, Enoch Powell, but he could have done so: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”

About Jonathan Story, Professor Emeritus, INSEAD

Jonathan Story is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD in 1974, he worked in Brussels and Washington, where he obtained his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has held the Marusi Chair of Global Business at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Graduate Schoold of Business, Fordham University, New York. He is preparing a monograph on China’s impact on the world political economy, and another on a proposal for a contextual approach to business studies. He has a chapter forthcoming on the Euro crisis. His latest book is China UnCovered: What you need to know to do business in China, (FT/ Pearson’s, 2010) ( His previous books include “China: The Race to Market” (FT/Pearsons, 2003), The Frontiers of Fortune, (Pitman’s, 1999); and The Political Economy of Financial Integration in Europe : The Battle of the Systems,(MIT Press, 1998) on monetary union and financial markets in the EU, and co-authored with Ingo Walter of NYU. His books have been translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. He is also a co-author in the Oxford Handbook on Business and Government(2010), and has contributed numerous chapters in books and articles in professional journals. He is a regular contributor to newspapers, and has been four times winner of the European Case Clearing House “Best Case of the Year” award. His latest cases detail hotel investments in Egypt and Argentina, as well as a women’s garment manufacturer in Sri Lanka and a Chinese auto parts producer. He teaches courses on international business and the global political economy. At the INSEAD campus, in Fontainebleau and Singapore, he has taught European and world politics, markets, and business in the MBA, and PhD programs. He has taught on INSEAD’s flagship Advanced Management Programme for the last three decades, as well as on other Executive Development and Company Specific courses. Jonathan Story works with governments, international organisations and multinational corporations. He is married with four children, and, now, thirteen grandchildren. Besides English, he is fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian, reads Portuguese and is learning Russian. He has a bass voice, and gives concerts, including Afro-American spirituals, Russian folk, classical opera and oratorio.
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3 Responses to Ken Clarke’s Memoirs and the June 23 Brexit referendum

  1. Chris Poulson says:

    When referring to Heath’s struggle with the miners in the early seventies was it not Joe Gormley rather than Scargill who Heath was dealing with?

    Very much enjoyed your review.


  2. Pingback: Brexit and the British Constitution: Part V. Modernisation or Vandalism? | Writing about history, politics & economics

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