Charles Rodway Clarke (born 21 September 1950) is a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Norwich South from 1997 until 2010, and served as Home Secretary from December 2004 until May 2006.
The son of Civil Service Permanent Secretary Sir Richard Clarke, Charles Clarke was born in London. He attended the fee-paying Highgate School where he was Head Boy. He then read Mathematics and Economics at King's College, Cambridge, where he also served as the President of the Cambridge Students' Union. A member of the Broad Left faction, he was President of the National Union of Students from 1975 to 1977. Clarke had joined the Labour Party by then and was active in the Clause Four group. Clarke was the British representative on the Permanent Commission for the World Youth Festival (Cuba) from 1977 to 1978.
He was elected as a local councillor in the London Borough of Hackney, being Chair of its Housing Committee and Vice-Chair of economic development from 1980 to 1986. He worked as a researcher, and later Chief of Staff, for Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock from February 1981 to 1992. His long association with Kinnock and with the general election defeat in 1992 was expected to handicap him in his career. But Clarke bounced back. He spent the mid-1990s away from national politics, working in the private sector – from 1992 to 1997, he was chief executive of Quality Public Affairs, a public affairs management consultancy – and subsequently emerged as a high flyer under the Labour leadership of Tony Blair.
Member of Parliament
Elected to the British House of Commons in the Labour landslide of 1997, Clarke served just over a year on the back benches before joining the government as a junior education minister in July 1998. He moved to the Home Office in 1999 and joined the Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio and Party Chair after the 2001 general election.
He returned to Education as Secretary of State on 24 October 2002 after the resignation of Estelle Morris. As Education Secretary, he defended Oxbridge, encouraged the establishment of specialist secondary schools, and (allegedly) suggested that the state should not fund "unproductive" humanities research. His view of universities could be seen as either impressively bold or overly instrumental. In 2003, he boiled down the point of most higher education to one simple sentence when he said in a speech to University College, Worcester: "Universities exist to enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change." He explained, "I argue that what I described as the medieval concept of a community of scholars seeking truth is not in itself a justification for the state to put money into that. We might do it at say a level of a hundredth of what we do now and have one university of medieval seekers after truth that we thought were very good, to support them as an adornment to our society. But I don't think that we will have the level of funding that we do now for universities unless we can justify it on some kind of basis of the type I have described." He also oversaw the introduction of Bills to enable universities in parts of Britain to charge top-up fees, despite a Labour manifesto commitment not to introduce such fees.
Following the first resignation of David Blunkett on 15 December 2004, Clarke was made Home Secretary, one of the senior positions in the Cabinet.
He was swiftly at the centre of attention for his advocacy of proposals for countering terrorism. Critics suggest that his reforms to the judicial system undermine centuries of British legal precedent dating back to the 1215 Magna Carta, particularly the right to a fair trial and trial by jury. He was also criticised for the Identity Cards Act 2006, seen by some as serious infringement of privacy, but Clarke insisted that identity cards were necessary to combat terrorism.
During the 2005 British Presidency of the European Union, Clarke pressed other member states to pass a directive to require communications data to be stored for law enforcement purposes. The directive was criticised as infringing civil liberties and privacy, and critics also noted that the directive had been approved very quickly.
Foreign prisoners scandal
On 25 April 2006 it emerged that 1,023 foreign prisoners had been freed without being considered for deportation. Among the offenders, five had been convicted of committing sex offences on children, seven had served time for other sex offences, 57 for violent offences and two for manslaughter. There were also 41 burglars, 20 drug importers, 54 convicted of assault and 27 of indecent assault. Former Home Secretary David Blunkett commented that "Heads should roll" over the scandal, despite the fact that many of the releases occurred during his period as Home Secretary. The Home Office later stated that 288 were released from prison between August 2005 and March 2006, which implied that prisoners continued to be released after the matter had been brought to the attention of the government.
Out of government
The foreign prisoners scandal led many to call for Clarke's resignation, not only from the opposition; Clarke reportedly offered to resign, but Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, refused to accept. However, in the wake of a poor Labour performance in the local council elections of 4 May 2006, Clarke was dismissed in the biggest cabinet upheaval in the history of the Blair governments, to be replaced by Defence Secretary John Reid. Having reputedly turned down the offer of Defence Secretary by Tony Blair, Clarke became a backbencher.
At the end of June 2006, he did a series of interviews in which he criticised John Reid for claiming that the Home Office was "unfit for purpose", and that the Prime Minister ought to have defended him to enable him to continue seeing through the reforms he had initiated when first appointed to the post. However, he did state that although Tony Blair had lost his sense of purpose, he wanted to see Blair continue as PM.
In September 2006 Clarke took up a consultancy post with a leading London law firm, leading to speculation he anticipated not returning to frontline politics.
Labour leadership controversy
On 8 September 2006, Clarke gave an interview to the Evening Standard in which he criticised the 'presumption' that Gordon Brown would succeed Tony Blair as Prime Minister, helping trigger further disputes about the Labour leadership. Clarke said of Brown's reaction to the leadership crisis, "A lot of people are very upset and cross about that. It was absolutely stupid – a stupid, stupid thing to do." He named Alan Milburn as a politician who had the stature to be Prime Minister instead of Brown.
Clarke furthered his attack on Brown in an interview with The Daily Telegraph on the following day, accusing Brown of being "a control freak", "deluded" and "uncollegiate".
Clarke with Alan Milburn set up The 2020 Vision website to discuss the direction of the Labour party after Tony Blair ceased being prime minister. Some observers saw this as a way for Gordon Brown's political opponents to create an axis against him. The website has since closed.
On 23 March 2008, Clarke published a list of 35 Labour held constituencies vulnerable to other parties if fewer than 7,500 voters switched parties away from Labour. This was interpreted by many as an attempt to force a leadership change on the Labour party.
On 4 September 2008, Clarke once again attacked Gordon Brown's performance as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, claiming that he only had "months" to improve or else should face a leadership contest. However, when asked whether he would stand as a "Stalking horse" to draw out stronger candidates, he confirmed that he would not.
On 1 May 2009, Clarke joined David Blunkett in criticising Gordon Brown's leadership and declared that he was "ashamed" to be a Labour MP, citing the Damian McBride scandal.
In September 2009, Clarke gave a speech in which he said that Brown should stand down as Prime Minister to help the Labour Party avoid "a hammering" at the 2010 General Election.
Life after Parliament
Having lost his Parliamentary seat in the 2010 General Election by the margin of just 300 votes, Clarke declared he was unlikely to stand again for Parliament.
On 20 September 2010, it was announced that Clarke had been appointed Visiting Professor to the School of Political, Social and International Studies at the University of East Anglia. The appointment is part-time and for an initial period of three years. Since November 2010, Clarke has also been Visiting Professor of Politics and Faith in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University. He is a Council Member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Clarke is a non-executive director of LJ Create, a company which "sells computer and teaching equipment to schools".
Too difficult box
In 2011, Clarke expounded his ideas for his new "too difficult box" political concept in a series of lectures at the University of East Anglia. In 2014, he launched the book The 'Too Difficult' Box: The Big Issues Politicians Can't Crack.
Clarke married Carol Pearson in Hackney, London, in 1984. They have two sons, both born in Hackney: Christopher Richard Clarke (born 1987) and Matthew Jack Clarke (born 1990). Previously resident in Norwich, they now live in Cambridge.
Clarke speaks Cuban Spanish (a legacy of his student links with Cuba), French, and German.
In 2004 he became a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society to acknowledge its contribution to education and in memory of his father, who had been a statistician.
Clarke is an avid supporter of Norwich City Football club.