Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Charles Clarke: The new spectator sport?

Last night, as most will know, Charles Clarke went on Newsnight and attacked Blair over the prisoner fiasco that surrounded his downfall and also attacked his successor Reid for saying the Home Office was not "fit for purpose". The Tory shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said that it was one of the most "uncoded attacks" he'd seen on a Prime Minister since Geoffrey Howe's infamous Commons speech attacking Thatcher. As it stands right now - and we're told that there is more to come from Clarke - I think that comparison is only partly true.

Geoffrey Howe in his speech in 1990 was blunt and to the point. He called on his colleagues to consider their loyalties to the Prime Minister saying "the time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long". Clarke's comments (so far), certainly attack Blair, but they lack the killer blow that Howe's statement had. Clarke language was also very careful, he attacks Blair for "having lost his sense of purpose and direction" but then hedges it by saying he need to "recover that sense of purpose and direction." The attack was clear, but it's was more a quick left jab than a serious uppercut to Blair. Right now, in my view, Clarke's not Geoffrey Howe, but by the end of the week he might be.

Clarke didn't just leave his criticism for Blair though. He went straight for the new Home Secretary, John Reid too. This was, I guess, to be expected. When John Reid took over in the Home Office he applied the age old Stalinist rule, blame everything on your predecessor (with the added measure in his case of blaming the Tories as well for good measure). Clarke was never likely to ignore that attack on him forever. He made it clear he beleived Reid's comment that the Home Office was not "fit for purpose" was wrong and he reacted angrily to the charges Reid's made about the Home Office lacking leadership under Clarke. Clarke's main thrust after that was to try and rehabilitate his own record at the Home Office. The only problem for Clarke though was he started off his interview by saying that when he took over he told Blair it was a three or four year job. With one swift and easy statement he was able to play up his "achievements" (i.e. failures), by giving himself the "well if I had had the time I needed" get out clause. Ever the politician to the end!

The question I wonder about is what David Davis will do. He began his response on Newsnight, but what he does over the coming week will be quite interesting. Like a great white shark he smells a trace of blood, but the wound is not yet fatal for either Reid or Blair. Davis needs to play it carefully. If he get's himself into the position of being seen to defend the man he called to resign he may find himself with backlash charges of opportunism.

My guess is Davis will circle his prey patiently and watch what Clarke does next. After all, why go in for the kill and expend energy when you prey may well do the job for you first?

No comments: