Ruthless Blair axes Charles Clarke

Tony Blair acted swiftly yesterday to overhaul his Cabinet following Labour's drubbing in the council elections. Political Editor Graham Dines looks at the Tories' successes which caused wholesale ministerial changesNO matter what amount of gloss Labour puts on the results of Thursday council elections in England, there's no disguising that they were utterly disastrous for Tony Blair, who will now face increasing calls to name the date he is leaving Downing Street.

Tony Blair acted swiftly yesterday to overhaul his Cabinet following Labour's drubbing in the council elections. Political Editor Graham Dines looks at the Tories' successes which caused wholesale ministerial changes

NO matter what amount of gloss Labour puts on the results of Thursday council elections in England, there's no disguising that they were utterly disastrous for Tony Blair, who will now face increasing calls to name the date he is leaving Downing Street.

Badly wounded, the Prime Minister turned on the man he had been defending for nearly two weeks, his Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

Mr Clarke was sacked because of the Home Office's incompetence over the failure to deport foreign nationals who were convicted and served sentences in British hails. Murders, paedophiles, rapists and drug dealers were released into society, and in a number of cases, vanished without trace.


You may also want to watch:


Although Charles Clarke yesterday protested that the Prime Minister had been wrong to sack him, the Norwich South can have no complaints. It's true that not all these criminals were set free during his watch, but more than a 1,000 were after he first knew of the shambles and, it has emerged, he failed to tell the Prime Minister of the problem for three weeks, leaving Number 10 to deal with a public relations and policy nightmare...

A Cabinet minister is responsible for the policy failures of his department of state. In what has been the biggest worst shambles in Labour's nine years of power, Mr Clarke should never have tried to hang on. He should have gone immediately.

Most Read

His replacement is a tough cookie. John Reid is a charismatic Scot, a straight talker who has achieved what many have previously failed - a Labour defence secretary who has endeared himself to the armed forces.

Jack Straw leaves the foreign and commonwealth office, demoted to the less demanding role of leader of the House of Commons. His place has been taken by environment secretary Margaret Beckett, who becomes the first female foreign secretary.

Ruth Kelly moves from education to take over the departmental responsibilities for local government and the regions in what will be a renamed office of the deputy prime minister.

While John Prescott retains his title as deputy prime minister and remains deputy leader of the Labour Party, he has lost his Whitehall role following his affair with one of his diary secretaries, which brought him public ridicule as the story vied for the headlines with the bungling at the home office.

David Miliband is also leaving the ODPM to move into Mrs Beckett's former role in charge of Defra, the environment, food and rural affairs department.

The removal of Mr Prescott and Mr Miliband from the department which effectively controls English local government could be a sign that the Mr Blair doesn't have the stomach to take on Tory controlled county and district councils, who are mostly opposed to any reform of two-tier local government in the shires.

There is such opposition in rural England to the reform championed by Messrs Prescott and Miliband that retreat in the face of a revitalised enemy may signal a strategic withdrawal by Mr Blair. Neither he nor his probably successor Gordon Brown will want a bloody war attrition with the Tory shires in a run up to the next general election.

THE election results were Mr Blair's worst electoral debacle since he became Labour leader in 1994. Not since Harold Wilson's nightmare year of 1968 has Labour experienced such a bloodbath in council elections, losing control of flagship local authorities like Hammersmith & Fulham, Merton and Camden in London.

The Tories gained control of Ealing - and whichever party controls this London borough traditionally wins the general election.

Labour took comfort from what appeared to be a “north-south divide” in England's political landscape, with the Tory revival confined to their traditional strongholds in southern counties and the capital.

But if Labour's stock is on the wane in London, it will make the party's bid for a fourth general election victory that much harder.

The results were good news for new Tory leader David Cameron, whose high-risk strategy of putting environmental issues at the heart of his campaign and downplaying traditional Conservative concerns like tax and law and order appeared to have paid off.

The Conservatives hit the 40% barrier in terms of overall share of the vote, bringing to an end a long period in which the party has “flatlined” on 31%-34%.

Dramatic gains in London councils like Bexley and Hammersmith & Fulham, where the Tories seized power directly from Labour, left no doubt that the Conservatives are once more a force to be reckoned with in the capital.

But while they won control of Coventry and many other smaller authorities, the Tories still have mountain to climb to achieve Mr Cameron's key strategic priority of re-establishing a Conservative presence in the cities such as Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield.

For the Liberal Democrats, the outcome of Thursday's polling left them treading water. The main beneficiaries from Labour's difficulties were Conservatives, while the Lib Dems' share of votes and seats remained virtually unchanged.

New leader Sir Menzies Campbell had been hoping to gain momentum by picking up significant numbers of new councillors and is certain to be disappointed with the failure to make more progress. Lib Dem results were variable across the country. The party increased its majority in the flagship council of Newcastle upon Tyne and gained seats in London authorities like Haringey and Camden. But they lost ground in Islington, where they ceded their overall majority and are expected to rely on the mayor's casting vote to exercise control.

Apart from winning control of three councils, their greatest success was in the East of England, with Dorothy Thornhill successfully returned for a second stint as the directly elected mayor of Watford.

The British National Party enjoyed its most successful election yet, seizing 11 of the 13 seats it contested in Barking and Dagenham in east London, and getting councillors elected in Stoke-on-Trent, Sandwell and Solihull in the West Midlands.

The Green Party also had a good night, increasing its total number of councillors from 71 to 88. In Norwich, the party boosted its representation by four to a record total of nine - making it a night of double misery for Charles Clarke.

.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus