'Biggles' Clarke has lot of bottle

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Estelle Morris's resignation caught everybody by surprise, not least her successor. "Biggles" Clarke learned the news on Wednesday while on a family trip to the flicks. The redoubtable Clarke, his ample belly full of Chinese food, took a mobile call in Leicester Square. The film? The Importance of Being Earnest.

We can't help detecting a note of irony here, given the earnest tone of Estelle's short reign, which will be seen as a stark contrast to the matey manner of her successor.

The nickname "Biggles" comes from Clarke's full-of-beans, Boys' Own manner. Lobby journos were rather taken aback to be cheerily greeted as "bastards" by the new top man. He started in typically pugnacious fashion by telling teachers not to heckle him at conferences.

Anyway, he is making himself comfortable. Two of poor Estelle's pictures have already been removed and letters of congratulation, including one from David Blunkett, litter his office. Blunkett says he looks forward to working with Clarke, although it is a tragedy Estelle has gone. Reassuring to see there is still room for sentiment in politics.

But a snapshot of Clarke's desk really summed up his personal style. He does not have just one in-tray but loads, labelled "urgent today", "urgent", "routine" and so on. Next to the "routine' tray sat a half-quaffed glass of red wine.

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