Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Fall Guy Clarke Holds All the Aces

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Fall Guy Clarke Holds All the Aces

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER OBORNE

NEW Labour has established an ugly new tradition at the Home Off ice.

Each new Home Secretary trashes his predecessor. Back in 1997, Jack Straw made known his contempt for Michael Howard and all his works. In 2001, David Blunkett persistently briefed against the wretched Straw, declaring that he had left behind a "giant mess", adding for good measure that the management of the department had been "abysmal".

Now John Reid has taken to trashing poor Charles Clarke, sacked in the Cabinet reshuffle. Reid's assertions that the Home Office is " dysfunctional" have been taken as criticism of officials. But the real victim of Reid's vitriol has been Clarke.

Reid clearly concluded that in order to save his own reputation, and buy some time, he had no choice but to rubbish Clarke.

Tony Blair has gone along with this, presumably because he also feels that the best way to keep the New Labour show on the road is to turn Clarke into the fall guy.

Through all the briefing against him, Clarke has remained heroically silent.

But he has been goaded beyond endurance, and tonight he will speak out for the first time with an interview on BBC's Newsnight.

This will be a fascinating interview, for the only way Clarke can salvage his own reputation is by attacking Blair.

He finds himself in almost exactly the same situation as Norman Lamont after being sacked by John Major in 1993. Major got rid of Lamont because he wanted him to take the blame for Black Wednesday and the economic collapse. Blair got rid of Clarke because he needed a culprit for the collapse of Labour's crimeandimmigration policy.

Major wrongly calculated that Lamont would go quietly. Instead, the injured ex-Chancellor responded with a lethal Commons speech which accused John Major of being "in power but not in office".

Clarke has all the motivation to behave in the same way. He is the victim of an astonishing, though wholly characteristic, act of betrayal by the Prime Minister. No Cabinet minister had been as loyal to Blair as Clarke.

On a number of occasions Clarke came out publicly and took the blame for mistakes and lapses of judgment that were the fault of Downing Street. …

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