Clarke: Labour must focus on future

Labour could be out of power for more than a decade if the party "gets it wrong" in the run-up to the general election, Charles Clarke, the former home secretary, has warned.

Mr Clarke, MP for Norwich South, said Labour had "wasted much of the first half of this parliament" on internal party squabbles and remained "very unclear" about what it had to offer voters at the next election. Predicting an election in May 2010, he insisted defeat at the hands of David Cameron's Conservatives was not inevitable, but said Gordon Brown should not delay in showing a clear sense of purpose and direction on issues such as the environment, public sector reform and Europe.

"We must all understand that rhetoric about past Conservative failures and past Labour success will not disguise a failure to face the future," he said. "It seems to me that Labour still remains very unclear about our approach, both in this parliament and the next," Mr Clarke said in an article for Progress magazine.

"Now, above all, we need clarity in each policy area. The current uncertainties are widespread and give ammunition to our opponents." He said the "uncertainty'" surrounding the comparative merits of the diploma, A-level or the international baccalaureate at 18, was "potentially debilitating".

Mr Clarke, who has been tipped for a return to front-line politics, said on BBC radio that the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was wrong to bow to pressure to reject the police arbitration award of 2.5 per cent, and reduce their pay rise to 1.9 per cent. "The fact that there was different treatment for the police and the teachers was a misjudgement," he said.