Charles Clarke: Cabinet's 'bruiser' will fill vacancy at Home Office

The new Home Secretary
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Indy Politics

Charles Clarke, the new Home Secretary, is a cabinet "bruiser" who was Tony Blair's natural choice to beat the Tories for the law and order vote in the general election.

Last night, the new Home Secretary said said his priorities would include policing, anti-social behaviour, immigration, asylum and criminal justice issues. "David and I have a very similar view about these policy questions and I think there will be continuity between David's approach and mine," he said.

There were, however, growing hopes among Labour MPs that Mr Clarke, 54, would bring fresh thinking to the Government's strategy for dealing with terrorism, which has been attacked as a "climate of fear". One left-wing Labour MP said: "I think he will bring a more open mind to the job." Mr Clarke, a cabinet heavyweight, faces a baptism of fire on Monday when he opens the second reading debate on the controversial Bill on identity cards.

His promotion to one of the top three cabinet posts could give the Prime Minister a stronger alliance against Gordon Brown. Mr Clarke has strained relations with the Chancellor, particularly over student top-up fees as Secretary of State for Education.

Critics say that Mr Clarke, the son of a top civil servant, is good at broad strategy but not so interested in detail.

Mr Blunkett was scathing in his criticism of Mr Clarke's handling of the education brief, which Mr Blunkett previously held. In his biography, published yesterday, he said Mr Clarke had not lived up to expectations, accusing him of taking the "foot off the accelerator" on schools".

Mr Clarke is famous for not suffering fools gladly and lasted only a year as Labour's chairman, a role in which he is reported to have clashed with officials. He was educated at Highgate School in north London, as a foundation scholar, and King's College Cambridge, gaining a BA honours in maths and economics. He married Carol in 1984 and they have two sons.

He was president of the NUS from 1975 to 1977 before becoming a councillor in Hackney from 1980 to 1986, when one of the local members was a young Tony Blair. Mr Clarke was chief of staff to Neil Kinnock when the party's modernisation began.

Mr Clarke won his Norwich South seat in 1997 and has proved a powerful advocate for New Labour, in spite of his old Labour credentials.

He said his predecessor would be a "hard act to follow". "I wish him the best in his own life, I'm a close friend of his and I think it's very, very important everyone understands what a fantastic achievement he has brought about.