Cambridge-educated tyre fitter in bid for council seat

Andrew Clarke pictured in his family business, Clarke's Tyres, in Larne. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Andrew Clarke pictured in his family business, Clarke's Tyres, in Larne. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A Cambridge-educated classicist who has spent more than a decade working as a tyre fitter is entering politics.

Larne man Andrew Clarke has eschewed conventional career paths, securing a place at the UK’s top university for studying classical literature before deciding to work in the family business.

After leaving school, the 37-year-old, who was brought up in Larne, went to Cambridge to study Homer and Virgil. He then went on to do a second degree, in law, at Queen’s University and had a place at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies to complete his legal training.

But by that point he said that he’d had “enough of studying” and decided to work in the 80-year-old family business, Clarke’s Tyres in Larne.

The academic mechanic, who is standing for the DUP in the Coast Road area of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said that if he is elected he hopes his unique background will help both in dealing with the public and also with the scrutiny work of a councillor.

“Hopefully the law background means that you’re not so easily intimidated with vague advice about legal positions,” he said.

When asked if he had been wary about putting his name forward in today’s highly tribalised political atmosphere, he said: “Yes, there were qualms. We run a small business and there is a slight anxiety that in a worst case will you have a boycott or that type of thing? I hope Northern Ireland has moved on from that.

“The DUP are now a mainstream party. Hopefully there is less tension than in past times. We need to try and attract people [to politics] from all backgrounds.”

The father-of-five said he was “not someone with a party political background” and had only joined the DUP a year and a half ago, around the time the party agreed to prop up the minority Tory government.

When asked where he was politically in the DUP, a party which over recent years has become a much broader church of unionist opinion than was the case in decades gone past, Mr Clarke said that he was “probably bang in the middle” of the party.

He said that the way in which the party had used its Westminster leverage to secure money for all of Northern Ireland – rather than pressing for purely unionist demands – had impressed him.

“How they’ve played their hand at Westminster has been very attractive to me – they didn’t try to do party political things so much but got money for the NHS, broadband, etc, which helped everyone. It was that idea of ‘Team NI’ that I find very attractive.”

When asked about his first experience of canvassing, Mr Clarke said: “Candidates are supposed to say its been wonderful, astonishing support. On one level I’m very surprised and pleased at pledges of support from people who haven’t voted before, right across the community, but by far and away the biggest response is ‘I don’t vote’. There is a lot of discontent over Stormont not being there and a fair amount of discontent at Westminster as well.”