Monday, June 26, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: Charles Clarke Says John Reid is Not Fit For Purpose

I've just been leaked the full transcript of tonight's Newsnight interview with Charles Clarke. I tell you now - it'll be worth watching. It's one of the most explosive interviews you're likely to see. He's quite open and direct in his criticism of John Reid. I wouldn't like to be in Reid's company this evening when he watches this... Here are some selective quotes...

CC I have some regrets about what I did or didn’t do in those circumstances but it was a sad thing, and I regret it very much, but at heart, the key issue for me as Home Secretary, as I discussed with the Prime Minister when I was appointed in 2005, was to really carry through the massive reforms which are necessary, and I think I set out on that path with some success.

CC When we met and he asked me to continue in that office after the 2005 general election, I said to him, and he agreed, that it would take, in my opinion, certainly 2 or 3, possibly 4 years to make the changes which were necessary...He said he didn’t want me to continue as Home Secretary, so I said well I’m not ready to take another job. He did offer me other jobs, I’m not going to go into the detail but he did, and I felt I shouldn't accept them because I had pledged myself to myself first of all, but also to the Parliament and to the country that I would resolve this problem. But also, Mark, because I felt frankly that the reform agenda on which I was engaged was a long and profound agenda and I wanted the opportunity to carry that through.
INT Looking at your political career, at all your efforts, and indeed what you felt had been an undertaking from the Prime Minister to give you the time to make those reforms work, there must have been a deep frustration the way things have turned out.
CC I was very frustrated. I regarded…
INT Were you angry with him?
CC Angry is a funny word. I felt angry with the situation, I didn’t feel particularly angry with him as such, even though I thought he took a wrong decision. I was angry and frustrated, as you say, because I felt that this massive task.. an enormous task, a great privilege to be asked to be Home Secretary at the general election, needed to be carried through over, as I say, a 3-4 year period, and I believed I could do that, I believe I should do that and I wanted the chance and opportunity to do that. And so yes I was angry and frustrated when that chance was removed.

CC If you're going to reform the Home Office over a three or four year period, there are going to be a large number of issues which are controversial and difficult … But we have to carry through that reform programme. If we simply say there’s a media campaign, we just cave into it whenever it comes along, that’s a very, very bad state of affairs for our democracy.

INT Are you saying that the Prime Minister caved in to a media campaign?
CC No, I don’t think that was it. What I think he did was look at the issues in the round, the local government elections and the general pressure there was and come to the view that he thought it would be difficult for me to continue carrying through my programme of reform.
INT But it was political expediency rather than long-term reform, wasn’t it.
CC That’s a criticism I would make. I think there is some truth in that.
INT When you left the Home Office, when you cleared your desk, did you think you were leaving a department that was unfit for purpose?
CC No I didn’t. I thought that was absolutely not the case.
INT John Reid was absolutely clear, wasn’t he, that this was a department that was unfit for purpose, your leadership was incoherent and there was a failure to ensure accountability. He was talking about what you'd done.
CC Er…. Let’s… I think John was wrong to say that.
INT Do you feel hurt about the way John Reid described the Department personally?
CC No, I don’t feel that. I think he came in as every incoming Secretary of State is entitled to do and said it as he saw it. It’s just that I don’t agree with his analysis of what he saw. It is a department which had a fresh official leadership, a new Permanent Secretary, new senior officials, which had a very clear reform strategy in place in each of its key areas. It was a department which had its problems. But I think the a department whose problems were being addressed, and could easily have been solved over the kind of couple of year timeframe that I described. The overall picture of a department not fit for purpose in any of the respects he described I think is and was fundamentally wrong, and I think John was wrong to use those descriptions as I told him before he gave evidence to the select committee.
INT The criticism is that you were unwilling to carry out that wholesale transformation.
CC Well if that was his criticism, and by the way I’m not sure that’s what he meant by it, but let’s assume it was, it certainly is not true. … I think most people would say, and I certainly feel myself, that I was a reforming Home Secretary committed to making the reforms that were necessary... I don’t think that’s a correct belief, this idea of some kind of woolly lack of substance in the immigration nationality directorate. These are some of most hard-headed people you can imagine. They’re dealing with very difficult cases. I understand that complexity, but just to confuse that with woolly liberalism or with a lack of determination to carry through what’s necessary in my opinion is wrong.
INT: In terms of style it would appear that there is a big difference between the way that you conducted yourself as Home Secretary and the way that Doctor Reid conducts himself.
CC I used to describe myself as tough but populist…. I beg your pardon, tough but not populist. Each Home Secretary has to decide their own style.
INT Do you think that John Reid is perhaps tough and populist?
CC I don’t know. You'd have to put that question to him.
INT He upset some members of the judiciary when he questioned the sentence of a paedophile by a judge. Is that something that you would have done?
CC Decisions are taken by parts of the Criminal Justice System which the Home Secretary of the day is routinely asked to comment on and either criticise or support. I made it my practice not to do that.
INT So he was wrong to intervene at that stage?
CC I’m not going to make it a specific criticism, I don’t know to what extent he looked at the case in detail and how he carried it forward, and it’s certainly perfectly appropriate for a Home Secretary to comment on the overall sentencing position or an overall police policy of those areas, and I believe…
INT But you wouldn't have done it on a specific case?
CC I wouldn't comment on a specific case but I just think you have to be careful in making the point you're trying to make here Mark, because I’m not clear myself what John actually said on this particular case.
INT Having ruffled the feathers of the judiciary, Dr Reid then found himself criticised by the police - this time for appearing to respond to a News of the World campaign by asking for a new assessment of the law the tabloid demanded. The paper wanted legislation allowing public information on where convicted paedophiles live.
CC I don’t know if his timing was influenced by the News of the World campaign or not. I haven’t spoken to him about it so I can’t tell you. If it was then I would criticise it. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.
INT There’s always a pressure, isn’t there, from the media, the media will always be on the Home Secretary’s back.
CC Always they will be and that’s right, and I think it’s important to resist that pressure a lot of the time, but I don’t want it to be confusing here. Some, maybe most, of the media criticism is justified and fair. I think they often are speaking to people's genuine concerns, but I agree with the implication of your question, that the Home Secretary of the day should not simply be running on the band wagon of some particular media campaign... It’s very important that the Home Secretary does his very best to give the confidence to the country that the Criminal Justice System is working properly and effectively and well. I very much hope that John and the way that he does it will stand up for ah… creating a system in which people can have confidence right across the range rather than simply responding to a campaign.
INT Last week, John Reid announced that his predecessor’s carefully negotiated plans to restructure the police in England were being put on hold.
CC I regret that John has decided not to proceed with the orders before Parliament for four of the regions of the country forces that we propose. I understand the need for time, there’s always a need for time. He has, however, been very, very clear that he agrees with the policy I set out on the basis of the advice from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary
INT He may agree but he’s kicked it into the long grass, hasn’t he?
CC I don’t know how far the long grass is. Of course I think it’s wrong to delay it. I think we’ve got a timetable which was the right thing to do and I don’t agree with his decision in that area. I’m not going to take responsibility for all the crises after I left. Some of them are as a result of decisions, as we’ve discussed in this interview, made by the current Home Secretary. I do believe that there are major issues which need to be resolved in certain areas and John is going about that, I’m sure, very well. But I also believe that the foundations are very much in place.
INT You’ve made your criticism of John Reid clear in what you've just said, at a time when the government is trying very hard to convince the public that things are now back under control. I mean what you've said today is not going to please Downing Street, is it.
CC I don’t know. What I decided to do, Mark, after I’d been moved from the government was to reflect on the position. I then decided to give a couple of interviews of which this is one, dealing with the history, and then simply put that to bed. You wont find me after the World Cup is finished, talking about Home Office matters again. I won’t be discussing those things.
INT Can you come back from this politically?
CC I don’t know what you mean by “come back”. Certainly…
INT Well, do you want a front line job?
CC Not specifically. What I want is to contribute to making the process of change in the country and the party which has been what I’ve been involved in for the last 25 years. I believe that…
INT Would it matter to you if you never had a seat at the cabinet table again? You feel that might have gone now.
CC It may well have done and no it wouldn't matter to me. I mean what matters to me is to have a government, a Labour government which makes change and carries things through in the interest of the country. It is not a condition of my life that I should serve in a government again in any form.”


Anonymous said...

...and so the in fighting truely kicks off 1992-2005 replayed, but now in RED!

Anonymous said...

A few things to note:

1. Charles Clarke has no great political friends

2. Most Labour MPs think Blair should have sacked him sooner

3. Most people who know something about this would agree that the Home Office is not fit for purpose

4. John Reid won't give a toss - he'll get on with the job

Peter from Putney said...

It appears that reports in the weekend papers that Clarke was being seen as Blair's "Howe" were not too wide of the mark.

Anonymous said...

Does Charles Clarke take all the blame for David Blunkett's incompetent management of the Home Office then ?

What about Sir John Gieve ?

Ellee Seymour said...

Is this Labour's Black Monday?

Anonymous said...

This feels more like Clare Short than Geoffrey Howe - not nice, but not fatal (to either Reid or the Dear Leader).

Still, one would need a heart of stone not to laugh aloud at the wheels on the bus going round and round - and then falling off.

Anonymous said...

Have New Labour changed their Home Secretary this week yet? I am reminded of the film "If this is Tuesday, this must be Belgium".

Anonymous said...

Clarke vs Reid...

One of those difficult decisions, isn't it - a bit like Argentina v Germany, it's a shame they can't both lose.