Chris Clarke: an appreciation

This week sees the memorial service for Chris Clarke, former leader of the LGA Liberal Democrat Group

He was always Chris. Even when he gained a knighthood in 2005, he was just very occasionally Sir Chris. No pomposity there.

I came across Chris first of all as Leader of Somerset County Council and thus someone from one of our most successful counties and regions. He was larger than life at the Local Government Association even before he was successfully elected as Leader of its Liberal Democrat Group.

He gave clarity to the Liberal Democrat push within that organisation but also made it clear that council and group leaders (the dominant force at the LGA) could and should also be campaigners. He developed the Axe the Tax campaign – demanding that Council Tax be replaced with local income tax – complete with stickers, banners, demos and even a Tony Blair mask.

I well remember standing in the cold at a spring conference in Southport as Chris intoned in a stentorian voice; “It’s not fair, Mr Blair.’ The campaign got publicity, tapped into a vein of discontent and developed what is still one of the Party’s best policies.

He did not mince words. As the BBC reported in 2003:

    Councillor Chris Clarke from Wells branded the Council Tax as “evil” and said the prime minister would rather “sting pensioners and the weak” than “toffs in big houses”.
    Mr Clarke – a deputy chairman of the local government association – said: “This tax has to go. Carry on the campaign right across the country and don’t stop until this evil tax has gone.”

He was also a regionalist, believing that Whitehall powers could and should be devolved, and was a key player on the South West Regional Assembly.

But he was active beyond party politics, playing a key role on the regional Arts Council after his move to Gloucestershire.

I last spent time with him in Derry. I was attending the Northern Irish Local Government Association in 2008 to spread the word about the benefits of the London 2012 Games. As I walked up the stairs into the reception I was astonished to be greeted effusively by this familiar figure. Chris, as ever, was far from non-plussed and treated my arrival as the natural activity of a former colleague. We reminisced long and hard.

The news of his death is still a shock to those of us who lived through some golden times in Liberal Democrat politics.

Chris was a man of passion, kindness, effectiveness and simple bonhomie. There will never be enough like him in this Party or in others.

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This entry was posted in Local government and Obituaries.
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2 Comments

  • I worked with Chris in the 1990s when he was leader of Somerset County Council. A very effective politician, a warm and genuine human being. He is a great loss.

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