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'I enjoy it as much as my first day': Ken Clarke bows out of parliament after 49 years

Former Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke said he has no regrets as he prepares to stand down after nearly half a century as an MP. Credit: PA

Former Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke said he has no regrets as he prepares to stand down after nearly half a century as an MP.

The Father of the House - a title given to the longest continually serving parliamentarian - said he continues to enjoy the job as much as when he was first elected in 1970.

During his career in Westminster, Mr Clarke served in multiple government posts under Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron.

Mr Clarke said he was "not that bothered" about standing down as he had been planning it for a while, but admitted: "I suppose I ought to feel more emotional than I do but I don’t.”

Ken Clarke says parliament has changed significantly from when he was first elected. Credit: PA

Asked if he had any regrets, he told the PA news agency: “Not at all. I’ve enjoyed it.

“I had this mad idea I wanted to be an MP, became an MP quite young, loved it from the first moment and just immersed myself in it, I greatly enjoy it.

“I am still a political addict – I enjoy it as much as I did in the first year I was here.”

Often described as the “best prime minister Britain never had”, he said it was a “great club to belong to because nobody ever knows how bad you might have been”.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wanted to be prime minister – it was one of my bad habits to keep standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party. I was too pro-European.”

Mr Clarke said parliament had a "public school atmosphere" when he first arrived but that his intake of MPs, a "post-war, social mobility generation”, was the first to start changing it.

“It was more formal, but very high powered… much more powerful – vis-a-vis the government – than it is now.

“It was an age of deference still – it was held in very high regard and in critical regard by the public.

“We’ve now gone to the other extreme – the public hold Parliament in a slightly brainless way, in near contempt – convinced that somehow the MPs are all only pursuing their own interests. It was the complete contrast in the old days.”

Ken Clarke has been an MP for 49 years. Credit: PA

Mr Clarke said there was “very little” constituency work then, and free postage and stationery for MPs had only just been introduced.

“It was a very limited amount, you had to go and sign for your allocation. Most MPs didn’t use it – we got very few letters.

“We now all have large staffs and mountains of mail and emails and everything else, and you’re really the equivalent of the Citizens Advice bureau.

“In terms of holding the Government to account, increasingly we’ve had governments who resent being held to account, who think Parliament is a nuisance, their press officers can’t control the publicity that comes out of it, and so it really ought not to discuss anything serious.

“And trying to bully the Speaker into making sure it never has anything very serious to consider – that’s grown ever since Tony Blair and it's been getting very strong recently. But for (John) Bercow, the Parliament would have been left discussing nothing in particular most days.”

He criticised the lack of collective responsibility in recent cabinets and claimed many ministers have “no idea” about current policy.

Reminiscing about Mrs Thatcher’s tight ship, Mr Clarke said: “We used to have bloody great arguments… but it was the cabinet that made government policy.

“If you look back over the last month or two and this Brexit crisis, most of the Cabinet have no idea what the policy is – they’ve got no more idea than I have.”

Asked if advisers now yield too much power, he replied: “We don’t want a half-baked presidential system with a president who isn’t really accountable to Parliament or the courts or anybody else.”