Monday, June 26, 2006

Charles Clarke is a Kinnockite to the last

Much discussion in the mainstream media today on whether Charles Clarke is set to do a Geoffrey Howe and take revenge on Tony Blair over his sacking from the Cabinet last month by demanding that the Prime Minister set a date for his departure.

If so, it is odd that he is choosing to do it in a Newsnight interview which hardly anyone will watch rather than in a Personal Statement on the floor of the House of Commons, but his decision to speak out is significant none the less.

After all, it is not so very long ago that Clarke was still publicly maintaining that the Prime Minister would stay on until summer 2008 before standing down.

Perhaps the key to it is to remember that Charles Clarke was never really a fully paid-up Blairite. He was a Kinnockite, and Kinnock himself made clear as long ago as April 2004 his view that Blair probably ought to go soon after winning a third term.

June 27 Update: The story was not quite as billed. Despite the trenchant criticisms of Reid and the implied criticism of the reshuffle, Clarke apparently still wants Blair to stay on until 2008. Moral: Don't believe everything you read in the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Mail...

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1 comment:

The Fat Controller said...

One astute commentator (probably Robert Peston) noted that Clarke, while not enjoying good relations with Brown, is closer ideologically to Brown than to Blair but doesn't want Brown to become leader when the scars of working in Kinnock's private office convinced him that only an English public schoolboy could be Labour leader (or be a Labour leader who won elections).

In fact, on the benefit cuts for single parents (unfair and counterproductive) introduced in Autumn 97, Clarke was to the left of Brown, writing to Harriet Harman to say that everybody in the PLP he knew was outraged by the cuts (even if, out of career-minded prudence, he didn't vote against them or abstain).

Not for him, either, the asceticism (at least health-wise) associated with many Blairites. Instead of sipping warm water with a slice of lemon (like Peter Mandelson) or spending hours on the treadmill (Blair), he quaffs generous quantities of red wines and has (notoriously) been known to order two pizzas for himself.

One New Labour habit he does have is copious swearing. His alleged reference to two female journalists as 'those two c*nts' is up (or down) there with John Reid's 'Do I look like the f***ing Wizard of Oz?', Alistair Campbell's numerous outbursts, or Blair's reference to dissident Labour MEPs as 'unadulterated w**kers'.

Which just goes to show that, despite being very softly spoken, Clarke has a reputation as a very abrasive character, notably as Education Secretary and Party Chairman. Had he got the FCO (as he was on course to do before the Home Office proved his own graveyard of political ambition) in the May reshuffle, he would have been probably the most abrasive holder of the post since George Brown.