After winning a scholarship to study at Oxford University, Clarke completed his undergraduate degree in History and went on to gain a graduate diploma in Law from Oxford Brookes University in 2007. Following university, Clarke secured a place at Slaughter and May as a trainee solicitor, and qualified in 2010. He left the law firm in 2010 and moved over to politics becoming Senior Parliamentary Assistant to Dominic Raab MP until 2013. In 2013, he went to work for Graham Stuart MP.
Clarke contested Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland in the 2015 general election coming third behind UKIP and Labour, but won the seat in 2017, with a 1,020 majority. He increased this majority to 11,626 votes in 2019. He supported Boris Johnson in the 2019 leadership election. In July 2019, he served as Exchequer Secretary of the Treasury, then moved to Minister of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in February 2020. He resigned in September 2020, citing personal reasons, but was later appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in September 2021.
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While he represents a swing seat, Clarke's constituency sits amongst the former 'red wall' seats, in Teeside. As such, Clarke is likely to be passionate about the role of 'Levelling Up' within his brief. When appointed, he said he is looking forward to returning to the Department, adding: 'the commitment and expertise of officials there on themes as diverse as homelessness, building safety and devolution is second to none'. In the past, he has been an advocate for devolution, arguing the Government should work towards 'establishing the unitarisation of councils as a vital first step for negotiating these mayoral devolution deals in the future'. In addition, Clarke has been an advocate taking what he calls a 'disciplined approach to the public finances', including for local Government, showing that he may support public spending reductions.