Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Clarke savages Brown: Be loyal and draw loyalty

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke MP has lifted the lid on some of the ruptions currently brewing in the Labour Party. It seems that poor performances at PMQs, ongoing blunders and the shifting of blame onto Ministers and advisers have combined to cause a sharp downturn in the level of parliamentary support for the Dear Leader.

Commenting in today’s Guardian, Clarke mentions that many MPs were “appalled” at the apparent jingoism of Brown's conference commitment to "British jobs for British workers", but have so far been too loyal to criticise publicly. Clarke also claims that senior Ministers are beginning to tire of Brown’s obsession and interference in their Departments - only for the Prime Minister to drop all responsibility in times of crisis.

"In David Miliband and Alistair Darling and [Jacqui] Smith he's got three strong people and good people who should be supported and to some extent they are not… Tony would always support his key people. Gordon should do that with his people."

This is the first recorded attack by a sitting Labour MP on the Prime Minister since his accession in June, following a private instruction by Tony Blair not to criticise his successor – an instruction Clarke finds “staggering, given his disloyalty to Tony”.

Of course, loyalty has never been the most dependable currency in politics, yet one of the key strengths of Blair as both Labour leader and Prime Minister was his ability to draw strong loyalty from his supporters, even after (as in the case of Clarke) he was forced to remove them from Ministerial posts. Blair’s skill was in demonstrating similar loyalty to others before calling it in himself – and as a result, potentially disgruntled former aides such as Mandelson, Byers, Morris, Milburn and Clarke himself remained supportive of Blair’s premiership right up to the end, refusing to criticise the outgoing Prime Minister.

Not for the first time, this appears to be an area in which Brown has been found wanting. With Labour slumping further in the opinion polls, Brown may yet need the support of both traditional allies and former adversaries, especially if the ants start to turn on the Queen.

As for Clarke himself, the Hairy One has recently been positioning himself for a key position in Europe (possibly replacing Peter Mandelson as UK representative on the European Commission), and several commentators have indicated that the recent thaw in relations between the two former Cabinet colleagues is possibly down to this opportunity of mutual convenience, i.e. Clarke’s silence to be rewarded with a prestigious job (abroad).

Fat chance now...