Charles Clarke: You Ask The Questions

The former Education and Home Secretary answers your questions, such as 'Is Blairism dead?' and 'Have you accepted that Labour will lose the next election?'
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The Independent Online

What has been Gordon Brown's biggest mistake since taking over as Prime Minister?

Cory Edwards


Allowing a sense of indecision to develop, particularly around last Autumn's on-off election.

Do you regret attacking Gordon Brown in such personal terms?

David Rankin

by email

Just about anything said by any Labour politician still gets slotted into some kind of Blair–Brown antagonistic storyline. I have fallen into this trap, notably in four newspaper interviews over the last year and a half. I made what I thought were candid comments which reflected widespread judgements only then to find that I had publicly attacked the current Prime Minister and his leadership qualities very negatively. That negativity is damaging for the Labour Party and Government, and so I regret it.

Labour seems to have run out of ideas. Have you accepted you will lose the next election?

Rubin Brown


Labour hasn't run out of ideas, but we do need to convey a clear sense of the progressive future we represent and we aren't doing that very well at the moment. We will win the next general election if we can project our ideas clearly and perform well in key areas like green and sustainable politics, our path to better public services, our commitment to strengthen the European Union, continued constitutional reform and the conduct of politics. If we don't do that well, we'll have difficulties. Our greatest danger comes from those Labour defeatists who think our downfall is inevitable, or even that a few years out of office might benefit Labour.

Would you ever take a Cabinet position under Gordon Brown?

Richard Collins

by email

Yes, certainly but any such appointment is a matter for him. Since before he became Prime Minister I have always been clear in conversations with Gordon Brown that I am ready to serve loyally in his Government but, equally, that I am perfectly happy if he decides not to include me. He asked me to discuss some non-governmental roles but we couldn't find the right way to make them work.

What do you see as David Cameron's greatest weakness?

Colin Mitchell

London, SW14

He gives absolutely no sense of how he'd address major national challenges like low educational standards in some communities, poor public transport or increasing the proportion of energy produced from renewable sources. Internationally he doesn't offer proposals to reduce the world economic risks or to deal with the threat of terrorism. He is over-focused on presentation and related gimmicks.

Shouldn't MPs allow us to see how they are spending their allowances?

Dawn Wainwright


I'm sure that's the right course. These allowances are necessary to support constituency-based democratic politics. Of course they have to be properly regulated and must be fully transparent. The delaying on this matter by the Speaker seriously damages politics in this country and needs to end.

Given your view that Gordon Brown's environmental policies are "absolutely pathetic" and "embarrassing", when are you going to challenge for the Labour leadership?

Rosemary Henderson

East Ham, London

We are far less effective than we need to be in most areas of sustainable policy, notably transport and energy. I will argue for better approaches in this area. That doesn't mean "challenging for the Labour leadership". It means making the case for change.

What is the biggest regret of your time in office?

Vic Martin


In education, I was moved before being able to agree implementation of the Tomlinson report; at home affairs, I was not able to stay and finish the process of reforming policing and penal policy. In both, I wish I'd moved faster or stayed longer.

How are you finding life as a backbencher?

Ryan Hardcourt

by email

Very enjoyable, with a little more space for reflection, though I am frustrated that Labour does not seem to be doing enough to offer real solutions to the major problems of the future, nor be convincing about our capacity to overcome the challenges we face.

Do you still see Mr Blair? Would you like him to be the President of Europe?

Holly Custice


No. I've hardly seen him since he finished as Prime Minister. I don't think he should try to be President of Europe. I don't think that this kind of post was conceived as an executive or activist position. I am not at all sure that he'd enjoy it.

Does the European Commission hold any attractions for you?

Nadia R

by email

No. I hope that the Prime Minister changes his mind and asks Peter Mandelson to continue for another term.

Who is the best of the young guns on Labour's frontbench?

Elliott Simpson


There's lots of talent which, by the way, is greatly superior to that in the Opposition parties. It would be invidious to choose just one.

The Home Secretary admitted to being scared to walk London's streets at night. What is your view of her remarks?

Ivor Yeloff


Her comment was seriously taken out of context. That's the fate of Home Secretaries, as I well know.

How could the relationship be improved between the press and politicians?

Jacque Dupont


By higher standards of political conduct and journalism.

Is the Home Office now "fit for purpose"?

Andrew Taylor


I never accepted that the Home Office as a whole was not "fit for purpose". I was against the over-simplistic trashing of the performance of a great department of state because it made change more difficult and lowered the morale and confidence of very many good people.

Isn't it an embarrassment Labour still hasn't got rid of the Lords?

Daniel Evans


I do favour completing Lords reform by establishing an elected second chamber, but don't underestimate the difficulties, which are genuine.

Is Blairism dead?

Glynn Llewelyn


Tony Blair was a great prime minister, whom I was proud to serve. He achieved great things for the country. However, I never knew what "Blairism" meant and I really think the word was just a construction of lazy political commentators.

Is it time we had inquiry into the invasion of Iraq?

Sal Travers

by email

There should be an inquiry at the appropriate time, but it's far more important to focus on what we should be doing now to strengthen security and democracy in Iraq.

Are exams getting easier?

Sheila H

by email

No, and I utterly deprecate those who look backwards with rose-tinted hindsight. Educational standards for most people have gone up for many decades and we need to keep going that way.

Do you wish you had gone to a comprehensive?

Nigel Liddle

by email

Not particularly. I'm not in favour of trying to reinvent the past, but if I were a child now, I'd far rather be going to one of the thousands of good comprehensive schools than going to private school, with all of the exclusivity and snobberies that implies.

Has the culture of testing and targets gone too far?

Lynn Crighton


It is necessary to have a regime in which there are tests and targets to help students, teachers and parents know how they're doing. Before the days of testing, parents found it very difficult to know what was going on in many schools. However, some people, including some parents, take tests far too seriously.

Do you still think that there is too much funding of pointless research?

Alison Fellows


Classic "blue skies" research has the point of extending human knowledge which is immensely important even if it doesn't have an immediate application.

You were a student leader when students were much more politically engaged. What's happened?

Bill Thomas


There's been lots of positive change since then. Fascism and military dictatorship has been removed from Western Europe and most of Latin America; apartheid and colonialism have gone from Southern Africa and Soviet totalitarianism has been overthrown. Many forms of discrimination in this country have been reduced significantly and social justice has been strengthened. Many of the student campaigns of the 1970s have succeeded. Students today are addressing many of the world's most pressing problems, such as climate change and world poverty. I hope they succeed.

What's your most vivid memory of the 1968 student uprising?

Martin Donnelly


I was 17 and still at school so didn't make any substantive contribution, unless you count being within 50 miles of the Woodstock Festival but not going there. Undoubtedly the images of events in Paris were most vivid, though the Prague Spring was the most significant.

Would you agree with Harriet Harman that Fidel Castro is a hero of the left?

Will David

by email

I wouldn't use that phrase, though I do think that he achieved many good things for Cubans in very difficult circumstances. Of the revolutionary Cubans, Che Guevara has become more of a world 'hero of the left', at least at a level of symbolism.