Clarke axed after elections battering

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Charles Clarke was sacked as Home Secretary today as Tony Blair launched a wholesale Cabinet reshuffle in the wake of Labour's grim night in the local council elections. And John Prescott will no longer have his own department, although he remains as Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Blair had previously insisted that Mr Clarke was the right man to stay on and sort out the foreign prisoners fiasco. Mr Clarke said he did not agree with the decision to remove him from the post but "entirely accepted his right to make it".

A statement from the Prime Minister said: "I felt it was very difficult, given the level of genuine public concern, for Charles to continue in this post. I was keen not to lose Charles' talents from Government and offered him a number of other Cabinet posts. I understand his decision to leave the Government and he will continue to be a major figure in our party."

John Prescott was stripped of control of his sprawling department after his affair with secretary Tracey Temple was exposed. Mr Prescott will chair a "series of major Cabinet committees to deliver the efficient development of Government policy". Ruth Kelly is reportedly moving from her role as Education Secretary to take on Mr Prescott's departmental responsibilities for local government and communities.

Margaret Beckett, formerly Environment Secretary, becomes Foreign Secretary - replacing Jack Straw who becomes Leader of the Commons. Geoff Hoon is made Minister for Europe with a seat in the Cabinet and John Reid becomes Home Secretary.

Patricia Hewitt remains as Health Secretary. Home Office minister Hazel Blears becomes minister without portfolio and Labour Party chair. Alistair Darling becomes Trade and Industry Secretary and Alan Johnson is to be Education Secretary. Hilary Armstrong becomes Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in a new role as Social Exclusion Minister with full cabinet status

With 171 local election results declared, the Conservatives had gained 286 seats, while Labour lost 292 and the Liberal Democrats gained 13. The biggest successes among other parties were for the Green party, which gained 20 seats, and the BNP, which picked up 26 seats. Conservatives gained control of 10 councils, while Labour lost control of 17.

David Cameron said the local election results had produced "very strong results" for the Tories in their first big test since he became leader.

"We hit that all-important 40-per-cent share of the vote," said the Conservative leader. But the Tories fared much better in London and the South than further north, and Mr Cameron said still they had a lot of work to do.

"I'm not claiming that this means it's going to be easy from here on. Of course it isn't. We've got a lot of hard work to do, not least in places like Manchester and Newcastle," he said in a GMTV interview.

Sir Menzies Campbell said it had been an "election of consolidation" for the Liberal Democrats and denied it was a test of his leadership.

"There is no doubt that our results have been mixed but I am not in any way down-hearted by these results," he said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme

The disastrous results for Labour led to calls from backbenchers for Mr Blair to set out a timetable to hand over the premiership to his presumed successor, Chancellor Gordon Brown.

The former health secretary Frank Dobson said the reshuffle would amount to no more than "re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic" and insisted the party needed "new management".

Earlier, Chancellor Gordon Brown - one man safe in his job - warned that last night's results had been a "warning shot" from the voters to the party.

He highlighted the crisis over the Home Office's failure to consider hundreds of foreign prisoners for deportation, which he said had raised legitimate concerns about security among the public.

"We have got to show in the next few days - not just the next few weeks - that we have sorted these problems out," he said.