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Clark's Tale

Alan Clark, who died in 1999 at the age of 71, was one of the Conservative Party's most iconoclastic, amusing, and controversial—yet thoughtful—figures. In a party top-heavy with temporizers and economic reductionists, in an age full of angst, his cheerful disregard for delicate sensibilities was a joy to behold, even when you did not agree with what he was saying or doing. Everything he did was fundamentally interesting, however ideologically indefensible or morally reprehensible.

His penchant for fast cars and adventure got him into the gossip columns, while his adultery was legendary—at one time, he was carrying on simultaneous affairs with a judge's wife and her two daughters. In the bars at Tory conferences, you can still hear delegates reminiscing fondly of Clark's gallant defense of English football hooligans and his arrest for demonstrating against live animal-exports, while his euphemism for lying—"being economical with the actualité"—has passed into common parlance.

Despite—or because of—his fame, Clark never attained particularly high political office, rising only as far as minister of state at the Department of Defence. His 1978 "certainty that I would be called upon to lead" must have rung hollow to him as he grappled with his fatal disease. We can only hope that the comment of Dennis Skinner (the leftwing MP who said...

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