Clarke confirms the rumour that before the events which led to his sacking, Blair had seen him as a foreign secretary in the making, and makes a startling claim. "It's very interesting. I knew nothing of this. Tony told me the day after he sacked me that he [had] wanted to make me foreign secretary, and I was staggered. He said it had long been his plan to make me foreign secretary; that is what he wanted to be the case. And he and Cherie then asked me and Carol [his wife] down to Chequers a week after, for a dinner, just the four of us, and we went right through it.
"He had a great plan, apparently, that he wanted me to be foreign secretary because he thought that if I had been foreign secretary and home secretary I would be a credible opponent to Gordon, as the leader of the party. And this had been his long-standing strategy, and that was what he had been intending to do, and that's what he hoped to do. Which ran against, of course, what I had said to him about feeling I needed to do home secretary for three or four years. I knew nothing about this until after the event, and I said to him if he was nice enough to think I ought to be leader of the party, then he might as well have been courteous enough to tell me this was his plan."
His recollection of the botched plan reaffirms not just the extent of the tension between Blair and Brown, but also Blair's ability to fumble his own reshuffles. Instead of appointing Clarke to the Foreign Office, he replaced the incumbent, Jack Straw, with the environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, who expressed her own surprise at the move by reportedly saying: "Fuck, I'm stunned." Beckett was replaced by David Miliband when Brown took office in June 2007.
Ironically, as he confirms, the one position he would have accepted - foreign secretary - was the one job Blair now felt unable to offer him. Although the prime minister offered him Defence "and other jobs" that he rather unconvincingly claims not to regret taking, Blair had thrown him to the wolves of the tabloid press.
"I think he was very weak," says Clarke, who had told Blair after the 2005 election that he would need several years in the job to unearth problems precisely of the sort that led to his sacking. "I thought he should have seen it through. In fact, he told me as late as the Wednesday before he sacked me that he was going to see it through . . . after Prime Minister's Questions, that Wednesday, in his office, and I think that's what he should have done.
"I think he was very preoccupied about the local elections that day . . . And there was a general pressure on Tony with the possible leadership challenge coming round the corner that was all being talked about."
Clarke believes he was used as a "scapegoat". "I think he felt he had to act and not allow the media to get at him, and I was a victim of that. It was serious weakness on Tony's part, and I regret it and for all I know he regrets it as well. But there we are - that's life. It remains one of the very few examples, I think, of there being no resignation letter: I did not write a letter to resign because I did not resign: I was sacked from that job, and I didn't wish to do that."
The timing of this interview is interesting in that it comes in a week when the current Foreign Secretary is at his lowest political ebb. David Miliband was humiliated in India, looked like a schoolboy when meeting Hillary Clinton and made a fool of himself over the Guantanamo torture case. Funny that Clarke should talk about his foreign policy views now, then. Not. If ever there was a politician who could spot a wounded political beast, it is Charles Clarke. The trouble is, he is never quite brave enough to go in for the kill.
Read the full interview HERE.