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Saturday, May 06, 2006 

Do the reshuffle!

One person who you'd think it'd be impossible to feel sorry for is Charles Clarke. After all, he insulted the father of one of the injured in last year's terrorist attacks. He launched an attack on the liberal media for daring to disagree with his and the government's plans for ID cards, 90 day detention without charge for terrorist suspects and the ban on protesting within a mile of parliament, to name just a few, the day before he admitted that he and his department had managed to lose over 1,000 foreign prisoners who should have been at least considered for deportation. Despite all that and more besides, what other feeling could you possibly have for what Tony Blair did to him yesterday? The man spends nearly two weeks facing down attacks from the media, with the apparent backing of Blair, and seems to be getting on top of the problem finally, when Blair decides that following the drubbing they received on Thursday night he has to go after all. Clarke, a formerly loyal Blair ally, disagrees with his sudden change of heart and rejected Blair's offers of a job as defence or environment secretary to instead return to the backbenches. You can understand his bitterness. Clarke is now definitely one to watch, however unlikely a Howe-esque dagger in the back type job seems.

Even worse for those with even a slight interest in keeping Britain free and stopping the weakening of civil liberties which has happened under Labour, we now have John "Oh fuck, not health" Reid. Most of those on hearing that he had been appointed to the post would have uttered something similar. Reid has all the worst traits of Labour; slavishness to Blair, a short temper and outspoken attacks on the nominal supporters of the party. His recent speeches, on the possibility of the re-writing of the Geneva convention (despite later denying it), and his attack on those who were "doing down the morale of the military", which included the stupidest comment possibly ever made by a minister, that if Lord Haw Haw were alive today he'd have a column in the newspapers, shows what a deeply odious man he is. This is without going into the fact that he was heavily implicated in the Lobbygate scandal, and that he is an ex-drinking buddy of that well-known humanitarian, Radovan Karadzic.

Other alarm bells should be ringing about the removal of Jack Straw from the foreign office. Despite lying about rendition and not resigning following the invasion of Iraq and his failure to gain a second UN resolution, he hasn't been that bad at being foreign secretary, considering his consistent approach to talks over Iran. More worrying should be the fact that the main reason he has apparently been deposed is because of the "threat" posed by that very country. Straw originally said that war with Iran was inconceivable, and more recently that Seymour Hersh's report that the US was prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iran was that any such attack would be "nuts". Blair was pissed off by such forthright dismissals of military action, as he regards Iran as the world's biggest threat now, much like the White House, who also were apparently annoyed by Straw removing the military option from the table. Margaret Beckett, his replacement, apart from being older than Bill Deedes, has just overseen what can only be described as a monumental fuck-up over the new EU single farm payment. Wales and Scotland have managed to introduce it with no problems, but in England and under Beckett's watch thousands of farmers have received no money whatsoever. Many are facing bankruptcy, so Beckett must be thanking the heavens that she's been removed before that reality had been properly reported. Don't expect her to dare say that military action against Iran is unthinkable. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself, but it's a horrible thought to think that it may be Jack Straw leading the rebellion against war with Iran just like Robin Cook did against Iraq.

The other major movement which shows just how mad Blair has become is the appointment of Hazel Blears as chair of the Labour party. Blears, the one minister who manages to make you gag as soon as you hear her voice or see her devil-red hair, is so devoted to Blair that she'd not only throw herself under a bus for him, but probably do so while naked and with "I HEART TONY 4EVA" carved into her chest. For a party which is now facing a transition from one leader to another, appointing such an arch-Blairite to the post is more or less a declaration of war. It's no wonder that MPs somewhat associated with Gordon Brown are calling on him to set the timetable for if not now, then very very soon.

Like Charles Clarke, John Prescott faces the humiliation of having all his jobs more or less taken away from him, as punishment for helping inflict such a huge loss on Labour. Except that, err, he's still going to get paid for being a minister, keeps his cars and his grace and favour home! For once the Sun is right to print an outraged front page on the matter. Why on earth should he stay in such a position?

Perhaps what is most telling about the reshuffle though is that Blair didn't bother to consult Brown apart from those jobs which affect the treasury. Blair's message with the reshuffle is clear; I'm not going away, and you're going to have to get used to it. It's the attitude of someone who does not realise their time is gone, long gone. Even more abundantly clear though is that Gordon Brown still doesn't seem to want to land the killer blow on Blair. He could easily remove him; he could have objected to the reshuffle, he could have demanded a meeting with Blair and pointed out that despite all the bad publicity over Prescott, Clarke and Hewitt, that it's him and his ideas and policies which have caused this disaster for Labour. He hasn't and it's unlikely that he still won't. Both Bloggers4Labour and the Compass group have called for Blair to go immediately; Jackie Ashley points out exactly what was wrong with the reshuffle; the Guardian leader more or less calls for Brown to make his move; what more evidence does he need that his time is now? If Brown does not make his move, the likes of Blears may get their way. They still want Blair to stay for a full term of office. All that will result in is the Tories getting back into power with the same-old policies under the new cute and cuddly face of David Cameron. Brown must not let that happen.

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