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Alan Clark

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Alan Kenneth Mackenzie Clark (April 13, 1928 - September 5, 1999) was a British Conservative politician, historian and diarist.

Alan Clark was the eldest son of Lord Clark of Saltwood. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied law. He did not practice however, and instead became a military historian. His first book, The Donkeys (1961), was a revisionist history of British involvement in the Great War, which was well received by the public but which greatly irritated the Army. However, in more recent years this work has been condemned by some historians for being too one-sided and failing to recognise the intelligence and humanity of the large majority of World War One generals. It was the inspiration for the popular pacifist musical Oh! What a Lovely War, though Clark himself was not pleased with the adaptation. He produced several more respected studies of the First and Second World Wars, before becoming involved in politics.

Clark entered Parliament as MP for Plymouth Sutton in 1974 and served in various junior ministerial posts at the departments of Employment, Trade and Defence during the Thatcher governments of the 1980s.

He was an outspoken maverick with strong views on animal rights, Unionism, race and class. Although he was personally liked by Margaret Thatcher, she never entrusted him with high office and he left Parliament in 1992 following her fall from power. His admission during the Matrix Churchill trial that he had been 'economical with the actualité' in answer to parlimentary questions over export licences to Iraq caused the collapse of the trial and caused the Scott Inquiry into Arms-for-Iraq, which helped undermine John Major's government. At the same time he was cited in a divorce case in South Africa in which it was revealed he had had affairs with both the wife and her daughter. Clark's wife responded with the famous line: 'Well, what do you expect when you sleep with below stairs types?'. He then published his political and personal diaries, which caused a minor scandal by their candid descriptions of senior Conservative politicians such as Michael Heseltine, Douglas Hurd and Kenneth Clarke.

He became bored with life outside politics, however, and returned to Parliament as member for Kensington and Chelsea in the election of 1997. He died in 1999 of a brain tumour.

To date he is the only Member of Parliament to be accused of being drunk at the despatch box. In 1983 while at Employment he was making a reading of a bill in the Commons after a heavy lunch with Ian Gow. As the complexities of the bill were too unclear for him to answer questions, Claire Short accused him of being drunk. Although the Goverment benches were furious at the accusation Clark later admitted she was correct.

After his death, his seat was contested and won by Michael Portillo.

A recent BBC TV serialisation of his Diaries re-ignited the controversy surrounding their original publication and once again brought his name into the UK press and media.

Quotes

On the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano

  • "So what does it matter where it was when it was hit? We could have sunk it if it'd been tied up on the quayside in a neutral port and everyone would still have been delighted."

To refugees expelled by Idi Amin from Uganda who held residence rights in the UK:

  • "You cannot come here because you are not white."

On Christmas:

  • "I only can properly enjoy carol services if I am having an illicit affair with someone in the congregation. Why is this? Perhaps because they are essentially pagan, not Christian, celebrations."

On Douglas Hurd:

  • "I fell into conversation with Douglas. His is a split personality. À deux he is delightful; clever, funny, observant, dryly cynical. But get him anywhere near 'display mode', particularly if there are officials around and he might as well have a corn cob up his arse. Pompous, trite, high-sounding, cautiously guarded."

On reform of the General Staff, as Minister of Defence Procurement:

  • "I want to fire the whole lot. Instantly. Out, out. No 'District' commands, no golden bowlers, nothing. Out ... If I could, I'd do what Stalin did to Tukhachevsky."

On the IRA:

  • "The only solution for dealing with the IRA is kill 600 people in one night."

Books

  • Diaries: Three volumes 1972-1999
    • Volume 1 Diaries: In Power 1983-1992
    • Volume 2 Diaries: Into Politics 1972-1982
    • Volume 3 Diaries: The Last Diaries 1993-1999
  • The Donkeys, A History of the British Expeditionary Force in 1915 (1961)
  • The Fall Of Crete (1963)
  • Barbarossa, The Russo-German Conflict 1941-45 (1965)
  • The Tories (1999)
  • Aces High, The War in the Air Over the Western Front 1914-18 (1999)
  • Suicide of Empires, Battles on the Eastern Front 1914-18 (1999)
  • Backfire, A Passion for Cars and Motoring (2001)

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