Leading article: An unconvincing assault

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The Independent Online

A Charles Clarke publicity blitz is upon us. Yesterday morning the former Home Secretary made public a letter he had sent to the Home Affairs Select Committee. In the evening he appeared on Newsnight. Today he can be heard on the Radio 4 programme On the Ropes. And at some point next month Mr Clarke is rumoured to be delivering a speech calling on Labour to "renew" itself. So ubiquitous has Mr Clarke become that it is almost as if he were back in the Government.

What lies behind this media barrage is no secret. When the Prime Minister told Mr Clarke that he was reshuffling him out of the Home Office last month, it did not go down very well. Mr Clarke refused to accept another post in the Cabinet and then released an unusually forthright statement claiming that he did not agree with Mr Blair's "judgement" in removing him from his post. Then came the ignominy of Mr Clarke's successor, John Reid, describing the department he inherited as "not fit for purpose". Mr Clarke interpreted this verdict as a criticism of his own performance in the job. From that moment the gloves were off. Now Mr Clarke is launching a spirited fight-back through the media.

Mr Reid is the focus of Mr Clarke's ire. The present Home Secretary is accused of submitting to populism and failing to acknowledge the reforms Mr Clarke had already accomplished in the Home Office.

But also criticised, by implication, is the Prime Minister, who sacked Mr Clarke. Politically, this is dangerous for Mr Blair. Mr Clarke is popular within the Labour Party and his opinions will hold weight. But perhaps more significant is the fact that Mr Clarke was long regarded as a Blairite. Mr Clarke's outspokenness adds to the impression that Mr Blair is fast running out of allies.

Yet we should also note that Mr Clarke hardly makes a convincing defence of his own record in power. He may have been unfairly treated over the foreign prisoners affair, but there are plenty of other black marks against his name.

Take civil liberties. Mr Clarke's claim, shortly before he was sacked, that under Labour "human rights have been very significantly advanced" was laughable. This is the Government that has attempted to impose on us 90-day detention without charge, ID cards, and an outlawing of the "glorification" of terrorism. Mr Clarke raised no objection to any aspect of this illiberal agenda when he was Home Secretary. Indeed, he actively championed it.

Sympathy for Mr Clarke now, as he tries to defend his impugned reputation and wounded pride, must be strictly limited.