You ask the questions

(Such as: Kenneth Clarke, how do you feel about being described by one of your colleagues as `a podgy life-insurance salesman'?); SEND QUESTIONS for the fashion photographer David Bailey and the novelist Jilly Cooper to: You Ask the Questions, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail yourquestions @independent., by 12 noon on Friday 23 April
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Kenneth Clarke was born in 1940, in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. He began his working life as a barrister, becoming a QC in 1980. He became active in politics while at Cambridge University, and was president of the Cambridge Union. In 1985 he joined the Cabinet as Paymaster General and Minister for Employment. Between 1987 and 1993 he was Secretary of State for Health, Secretary of State for Education and Science, and Home Secretary. From May 1993 until the general election in 1997 he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is MP for Rushcliffe, and is married with two children.

When did you decide to become a politician?

Claire Millar, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

I decided that I wanted to become an MP when I was quite a small boy in primary school. I have no idea, really, why I developed this early childish enthusiasm. I think it was because I was already an avid reader of the newspapers and I enjoyed following the political debate. I am afraid that I have long ago lost the scrapbook that I kept of the 1950 election.

You have a love of birds. If you could be a bird, which would you be and why?

Karl Havers, Guildford, Surrey

I am a very keen birdwatcher. For some peculiar reason, whenever I am asked to name my favourite bird I usually name the bar-tailed godwit. I would not remotely wish to share its life, standing knee-deep in frozen water for a high proportion of the time.

Aside from your political differences, what do you think of William Hague on a personal level?

Janet O'Neill, Ipswich, Suffolk

I have always had an excellent personal relationship with William Hague, who I think leads a private lifestyle very similar to my own. It is a pity that there is so much press attention being paid to the cultivation of a public image of the ordinary guy who likes to relax and enjoy a pint of beer. In fact, I think that is his genuine personality.

Has the centre of gravity permanently shifted to the right in William Hague's party?

John Vincent, Reigate, Surrey

The Conservative Party is being led from the right again as it was, to some extent, when Margaret Thatcher led it.

Mrs Thatcher relied very heavily on Willie Whitelaw and successfully maintained a very balanced team which represented every strand of opinion within the Conservative Party. There were more "wets" than "dries" in her Cabinet in 1990, just as there had been in 1979. I believe that William is striving to keep the same sense of balance inside the party.

What did you think of the "devil's eyes" advertising campaign run during the last election? Is advertising playing too great a role in politics?

Philip Mynors, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

I must admit that I went along with the "devil's eyes" campaign, but regretted it eventually. There have been key political posters which have swung votes in the past - I particularly remember "Labour is not working" in 1979.

I think the advertising at the last election was a waste of millions of pounds by both parties. Ours became rather unpleasant and the Labour Party's was vapid and unmemorable.

I am rather tempted by the idea that there should be a cap on the amount spent by each political party on posters and hoardings.

Do you believe that the euro can be properly managed without accountable democratic control by a parliament scrutinising a central authority, such as our Chancellor of the Exchequer?

J M Mackay, Biggar, Lanarkshire

Yes. Monetary policy in the United Kingdom is no longer the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and is the independent responsibility of the Governor of the Bank of England. In most developed countries where there is an independent central bank, the central bank governor is not under the control of government and parliament in any way but does, of course, have to defend his decisions publicly. Our Governor makes regular appearances before the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons. The European Central Bank has got to find some equivalent way of making itself accountable to the outside world, and I see no reason why members of the Central Bank Board should not explain themselves to members of the European Parliament or to members of national parliaments.

How long do you really think it will be before the Conservatives are elected to govern the country?

Simon Bishop, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

I think the Blair Government is an extremely shallow and lightweight administration and I see no reason why it should not be replaced at the next election. Whether the Conservative Party succeeds in being re-elected in 2002 will depend on our success in developing policies and attitudes towards the economy and the public services, and on presenting a credible and attractive impression to the public at large as a potential government.

Alan Clark described you as a "podgy life-insurance salesman". How do you feel about that?

Patricia McMillan, Isle of Wight

Alan actually described me as a "podgy life-insurance risk"! It was probably one of the more accurate statements that he has ever made. I do not share Alan's hypochondria and fitness-freak enthusiasms!

Do you eat British beef and genetically modified food?

Charles Crombie, Alton, Hampshire

Yes. I think people are becoming ever more neurotic in their aversion to risk. I have seen no evidence to suggest that British beef or the GM foods already on sale pose any degree of risk which is out of line with the countless risks that we run every day in our modern lives.

I have taken part in motor racing in the past. If I am allowed to choose to do that, I cannot understand why I am not allowed by the Government to choose to eat a T-bone steak. I regard these decisions as my personal responsibility as an adult.

Do you agree that much of Tony Blair's success today is due to successful public relations? How do you think William Hague should combat this?

David Waugh, Shelford, Nottinghamshire

I think most of Tony Blair's success today is due to his personal success in presenting himself, which obscures his irritating vagueness and lack of clear principle.

I think William should seek to develop his political ideas and project himself as a substantial political figure and statesman, in contrast.

You recently grew a beard. Do you think William Hague's popularity would increase if he followed your example?

Keith Flett, Tottenham, London

No, I would only advise William to grow a beard if he were to find himself with no hot water to shave in for two weeks, which was my only motive.

Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Zoot Sims, Booker Ervin, Ben Webster, John Gilmore, Coleman Hawkins - which tenor player do you most deeply identify with? And why?

TC Coleman, Stoke Newington, London

I congratulate the questioner on a selection of absolutely brilliant tenor saxophonists. It is almost a complete set of the finest players of the instrument in jazz music. I fear that I do not identify with the lifestyle of any one of them, as they are a collection of fairly eccentric people with some deep personal problems and tragedies.

Sonny Rollins is the best improviser I have ever heard. Dexter Gordon is the most larger-than-life personality of the whole lot; and John Coltrane is the finest and most influential musician of the collection. I find myself listening to younger tenor players who all try to imitate him.