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Clarke fires Blair broadside

PUBLISHED: 09:20 27 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke last night fired a direct warning at Tony Blair that he needed to recover his sense of political strategy and not be deflected by “dangerous” headline grabbing politics.

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke last night fired a direct warning at Tony Blair that he needed to recover his sense of political strategy and not be deflected by “dangerous” headline grabbing politics.

Mr Clarke, sacked in May after a row over the release of foreign prisoners, said he was determined to “clear his name” in the face of criticism - including accusations from his successor John Reid that the home office was “not fit for purpose”.

The Norwich South MP mounted a robust defence of his handling of the foreign prisoner crisis and issued a copy of a seven-page letter he has sent to John Denham, chairman of the cross-party home affairs select committee, detailing his handling of the issue.

“I said to both John and Tony before John did his “fit for purpose” speech that I thought it was dangerous both for the Prime Minister and the government,” he said. “It would simply reinforce the idea that nothing has been achieved on 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.”

“I don't feel stung. I feel it's wrong and politically unwise.”

But it is his broadside that the government- and pointedly the prime minister - needed to regain a sense of strategy which could prove the most politically explosive.

“I think there is a sense of a lack of direction which needs to be recovered,” he said. “We need to recover our reforming drive in a coherent and consistent way.”

He hinted that the sense of drift was not confined simply to Downing Street and said he planned to spend the next few weeks shaping his own thoughts about the future political direction of the Labour government.

“My preferred option for that is Tony Blair himself to recover his own leadership sense of direction,” Mr Clarke said. “Going down that course is the best way of doing it. If Gordon Brown is, as I expect, elected leader, he also needs a sense of strategy.

“The single most important thing is the reform agenda in every area as well as the Home Office. We have to realise the reform issues are long-term issues and not just a quick speech or quick bit of legislation.”

Mr Clarke insisted he was not out for revenge against his former boss.

“I don't feel bitter,” he insisted. “I still feel cross about being removed, but I don't think it's revenge. I think revenge is a very destructive emotion.

“What I'm doing is attempting to deal with my period as a reforming home secretary.

“After this initial period while I am clearing my name, I will be speaking out on where I think the future of the party should be. I won't be giving a running commentary on the home office or every single thing it does.”

But he was scornful of the headline grabbing tone taken by Dr Reid - and criticised his decision to revisit the controversial Megan's Law, where American parents are given the names of paedophiles living in their area.

“John is a friend of mine and I respect him,” he said. “Every Home Secretary has a different style.

“I would describe my own as tough but not populist, not following every tabloid headline, but trying to deal with the real concerns about public protection.

“I'm not going to criticise that style but what I do criticise is saying the home office is not fit for purpose.

“I certainly believe the media should be taken seriously particularly on public protection. But that doesn't mean we should follow every particular prescription put forward.

“As far as Megan's Law is concerned, all the evidence I have seen is that it wouldn't succeed.

“There was a sense I had done something wrong on foreign national prisoners. All the stuff that's been happening with the Home Office there is a sense somehow I bear responsibility - I don't think that's true.”


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