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Summary

Ken Clarke needs no introduction. One of the genuine 'Big Beasts' of the political scene, during his 46 years as the Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire he has been at the very heart of government under three prime ministers. He is a political obsessive with a personal hinterland, as well known as a Tory Wet with Europhile views as for his love of cricket, Nottingham Forest Football Club and jazz.

In Kind of Blue, Clarke charts his remarkable progress from working-class scholarship boy in Nottinghamshire to high political office and the upper echelons of both his party and of government. But Clarke is not a straightforward Conservative politician. His position on the left of the party, often led Margaret Thatcher to question his true blue credentials and his passionate commitment to the European project, has led many fellow Conservatives to regard him with suspicion - and cost him the leadership on no less than three occasions.

Clarke has had a ringside seat in British politics for four decades, and his trenchant observations and candid account of life both in and out of government will enthrall listeners of all political persuasions. Vivid, witty and forthright, and taking its title not only from his politics but from his beloved Miles Davis, Kind of Blue is political memoir at its very best.

©2016 Ken Clarke (P)2016 Macmillan Digital Audio

What listeners say about Kind of Blue

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Good company

Ken Clarke kept me company whist walking Hadrian's wall. His personal style and open reflections gave me insight into the political landscape of recent years. He has width & breadth of government experience that few can match and his politics of principle come across. I shall now read the book! But shall continue to hear his voice - am glad that he read his own story. Strongly recommended

6 people found this helpful

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An intriguing listen

Very much enjoyed listening to one of the great political actors of the past 40 years, someone with genuine experience and am very pleased Ken narrated his own book. The book itself had touching moments, while the heavy detail of policy was left out there were some dry segments but it was an all round positive account of his life and time in public office. On occasion felt left wanting more.

5 people found this helpful

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Fascinating book

A reminder of what a mess the UK was in back in the 1970's and what the Tories did for good and bad. Ken Clarke is one of the best of them and he give a clear insight into his beliefs and views. This should be a companion piece to Nick Clegg's, Craig Oliver's book on Brexit and the commentator Owen Jones Chavs and The Establishment for anyone trying to make sense to today's politics.

5 people found this helpful

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A great listen

An excellent listen, full of interesting anecdotes. I'd have liked more analysis of 1997-2010. His aloofness is one of his best features, and no doubt helps explain his longevity in politics, but more thorough description of the events of the time would have been interesting.
All the same, a joy to listen to.

4 people found this helpful

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True Blue

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I already have! Ken Clarke's narration adds to the insight of his experiences across many years in parliament. Although I don't always agree with him politically, I felt a better understanding of the reasoning behind some decisions. Brexit makes this even more relevant.

What did you like best about this story?

How different ministries work and the trade unions associated with them. How politics and politicians roles have changed, also the rise of the right/media changes.

What does Ken Clarke bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

I like his voice, but also he's able to stress things that's made it seem more personal. I can understand why he'd make a good companion.

Any additional comments?

Puts context into the actions of some post Brexit and yet despite it being a book about government in the main, I found it a very easy and enjoyable listen.

8 people found this helpful

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Fantastic

Brilliantly narrated by the man himself. Listened for 8 hours non stop on a long haul flight. Fascinating story of the behind the scenes of British politics over the past 40 years.

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Insight into Government

Fascinating book by a high profile politician with whom I have a great respect. The stand out part was Ken explaining the way the country was run before the Thatcher years, quite horrifying. Similarly horrifying is the current obsession with rolling news rather that discussing proposals fully, especially the EU referendum.

2 people found this helpful

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Revelatory

An extraordinary retrospective on a political career lasting 50 years, reminding you of the breadth of Clarke’s ministerial experience, under Thatcher, Major and Cameron. Even if you don’t always agree with him politically, this is remarkably entertaining, full of warm, funny anecdotes and revelatory gossip. A man of principle - which perhaps prevented his rise to Prime Minister...

2 people found this helpful

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A genuinely riveting listen

If you could sum up Kind of Blue in three words, what would they be?

Insightful; Self-assured; candid.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Kind of Blue?

The most obvious answer would be Ken Clarke's insights in to the Thatcher government which is transparent and incredibly interesting but actually it is the explanation of how the New Labour era and David Cameron's government actually functioned from someone who is from an era of conviction rather than populist politics which I found most gripping. An exceptional career, even if there aspects of his politics that I do not wholeheartedly subscribe to.

What about Ken Clarke’s performance did you like?

He describes in his foreword that this book is the result of a team effort; the labours of extremely good editing based on his late night dictations made whilst he supped on a brandy and smoked a cigar (or two). His performance is reflective of this creative genesis. it is personal, informal, and typical of his rather relaxed 'hush-puppy" style. It almost feels as though you could be sitting opposite him, listening to his "garrulous" meanderings whilst sitting in a chesterfield chair in a smoke filled room. A really nice listen.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

His obvious love and aching for his departed companion and wife cannot fail to move. Especially so when it comes to the loss of his other passion, the loss of the UK's membership of the EU. The first I deeply sympathised with, the second I deeply empathised with.

Any additional comments?

The fact is that Ken Clarke is the hero of his own story. I am a person who only really became politically aware after the '97 New Labour landslide and so, the idea of what a conviction politician actually is, is quite alien to me. To listen to an individual such as Ken Clarke describe his deeply held and unwavering opinions with such intelligence and resounding certainty is remarkably refreshing. The complete absence of any form of self-doubt, any reflective (and navel gazing) questioning around the validity of his convictions are very far removed from my very generation Y sensibilities. I guess they just don't make them like him any more... Shame, really.

2 people found this helpful

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Cuddly Uncle Ken...

Ken Clarke has been a fixture in the UK Parliament since 1970, so the entire period in which I’ve been politically aware. He has stood down at this election, having been thrown out of the party of which he has been a member all these years over his support for remaining in the EU. Not that he will care, I imagine – the personality I’ve spent so long with in this 24 hour audiobook is one who will always believe he is right and everyone else is wrong, and will happily sail off into the sunset with his sense of his innate superiority undented.

Long familiarity with a politician can breed a kind of affection, especially when he remains in parliament long after his ministerial days are over. There is a tradition in the UK, not so much of elder statesmen, but of cuddly uncles – men who pepper their speeches with rambling accounts of how things used to be back in the days of Harold Wilson or Margaret Thatcher, like the old relative in the corner at family gatherings who will insist on talking about the war. (I’m not being unconsciously sexist here – it really is a male thing since we haven’t had enough long-serving women MPs for there to be many female octogenarians shuffling around the corridors of power yet... give it another couple of decades.) For older people, like me, who remember Wilson and Thatcher, this gives a curious sense of stability and continuity. Younger people, I imagine, simply roll their eyes and switch off. Over the last couple of decades, Clarke has become one of those cuddly uncles, known for his love of jazz, his cigar-smoking bon viveur personality, his jovial demeanour, and his endearingly crumpled appearance...

...which explains why I’d managed to sort of forget that he was responsible for overseeing some of the most Thatcherite policies of the Thatcher era! As a cabinet minister in those days he served as Health Secretary as the first tentative steps were taken to make the NHS more “efficient” (i.e., cheaper) by introducing the ‘internal market’ - a way of making hospitals compete against each other for patients; for ‘contracting out’ ancillary services – a way of making cleaners, canteen staff and so on work longer for less money and fewer employment rights; and for making GPs ‘fundholders’, taking decisions on where patients should be treated on the basis of budgets rather than quality of care. Then, having destroyed standards and morale in the NHS, he spent a couple of years trying to wreck – I mean, improve – education, in much the same way.

So “successful” was he in these roles that Thatcher’s successor, John Major, promoted him to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How you rate him in this role really depends on your political leanings. The economy improved under his oversight, but the disparity between rich and poor grew. Unemployment went down, but it could be argued that it was Thatcher’s policies that had made it rise to such alarming rates in the first place. Interest rates, driven through the roof by the government’s mishandling of the whole question of the ERM and the single European currency, came back down to bearable levels. All of this gave him a reputation for competence and I won’t argue with that except to say that every chancellor’s reputation rests to some degree on the competence or otherwise of his predecessor and successor. Clarke succeeded to a shambles – it would have been hard for him to make things worse.

The book is well written, full of anecdotes and personality sketches that stop it from being a dry read about policies. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Clarke himself and he has an attractive speaking voice, making it a pleasant listening experience. But although I listened very hard, I can’t remember him once in the whole 24 hours ever expressing any concern for the weaker or more vulnerable members of our society. I got the distinct impression that to Clarke politics is an intellectual game, with victory being judged by statistics and honours rather than by outcomes for actual people. Even his much vaunted support for the EU, which in recent years has made many Remainers feel that he’s much cuddlier than most Conservatives, really seems to be about the free flow of workers providing a limitless pool of cheap labour from the poorer countries in Europe with which to boost profits for the rich while depressing the pay and conditions of those Brits already at the bottom of the economic ladder.

As is often the case with political memoirs, Clarke only really talks about the events in which he was directly involved, which is understandable but often gives a rather patchy view of a period. For instance, there’s barely a mention of the Falklands War, which played a huge role in why the Thatcher government was re-elected. He does talk about the miners’ strike, but again on a purely political level. There is no doubt that the rights and wrongs of the strike are debatable, but most people, I think, have some sympathy for the suffering that the mining communities went through during and after the strike. I didn’t catch a whiff of that from Clarke – to him, it was solely a question of economics and political power.

I often find my view of a politician changes when I read their memoirs, which is why I do it. Usually I come out feeling that I may disagree with them politically but that I’ve gained an appreciation of their good intentions. In this case the reverse happened. I rather liked Cuddly Uncle Ken before I listened to this, but now I see him as smug and self-satisfied, a man who throughout his life has been far more interested in his own comfort and reputation than in trying to improve the lives of the people he serves. I was sorry to see him thrown out of his party after a lifetime in it, but now... well, somehow I don’t much care. He says himself frequently that he’s not the type of person who lets anything bother him. I would have liked him to be bothered by inequality, child poverty, the marginalised and the forgotten. Is that too much to ask of a politician? As a book, though, I do recommend it as a well written memoir that casts light on the politics of the last fifty years.

1 person found this helpful