In the news: Kenneth Clarke

June 29, 2001

The prospect of former chancellor Kenneth Clarke becoming leader of the Tory Party has inspired both brickbats and bouquets.

As education secretary from November 1990 to April 1992, he planned the conversion of polytechnics into "new universities", the incorporation of further education colleges and a concerted effort to put vocational qualifications in the mainstream.

But as chancellor from May 1993 to April 1997, he was accused of putting universities and colleges on the road to financial ruin, with proposed cuts in 1995 described by union chiefs as "equivalent to the loss of seven universities".

Medical academics may have reservations about Mr Clarke's position as chair of the remunerations committee for British American Tobacco. As MP for Rushcliffe since 1970, he has taken an active interest in the fortunes of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities. But anti-smoking campaigners were quick to draw a possible Clarke connection when Nottingham accepted a £3.8 million donation from BAT for a centre for corporate responsibility.

Mr Clarke's straight-talking approach has earned him respect and made him enemies. His friends and supporters say anything underhand would be against his style. His enthusiasm for cricket has often led to the comment that he prefers to tackle tough issues "with a straight bat".

John Barnes, a visiting lecturer at the London School of Economics who has known Mr Clarke since his days as a law student at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, described him as "hard-nosed but with a social conscience".

But Mr Clarke's outspoken interest in Europe is likely to continue to prove the sticking point with his party.

Aged 60 and married with two children, Mr Clarke's interests include bird watching and motor racing.

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