Charles Clarke May Have Courage and Conviction, but If He Is to Sort out the Many Problems That Await Him at Education, He Will Have to Do Something about "The Interpersonals". (Politics)
Kampfner, John, New Statesman (1996)
Close to two years ago, I went to see Charles Clarke in his lair in the Home Office. We had a garrulous early evening chat, alternating between his views on criminal justice, lawyers, the role of society and the media, what it means to be a Blairite and whether or not he should shave off his beard.
His candour and his willingness to take people on impressed me. Political journalism, he said, was corrupting open discussion. A media that sought only controversy was traducing difficult policy decisions.
My interview was given front-page treatment by the Guardian, under a headline "Tip for the top". This man, I felt, was different. Politics and fashion go in cycles. Squeaky-clean Blair represented an end of millennium obsession with youth and modernity. There would in time be something appealing about someone like Clarke as prime minister.
That was then. He isn't quite a household name now, but Clarke is finally getting the profile he deserves as the new Education Secretary. This is, as one Downing Street official puts it, "Charles's big chance--if he can sort out the inter-personals then he's got a good chance of making it work".
But the inter-personals are the trouble. They will count for a lot in Clarke's new job. Whatever it might think of public-sector workers, the government now concedes that it has to take them with it as it reforms. Over the next month, Clarke and his team will put the finishing touches to reforms of higher education, having to settle the highly contentious questions of top-up fees and graduate taxes versus student loans. The bigger challenge is to determine just what "the post-comprehensive" era in secondary schools means.
Clarke will need to add charm to his customary courage and conviction if he is to win the battles with Downing Street over selection, with the Treasury over future funding--and with the teaching profession. His record over the past few months begs the question: can he do it?
Tony Blair's people believe he did a good job as party chairman, rejuvenating morale, encouraging local organisations to engage more in debate. When it came, however, to the desperately difficult balancing act of relations with the unions, the picture is mixed.
Clarke and David Triesman, the soft-spoken general secretary, played a "good cop, bad cop" routine, but a five-year deal guaranteeing funding from the unions continues to elude them. …