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Saturday, September 09, 2006 

"Psychological issues."

Back in 1998, when the first tensions between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown started to show, Alastair Campbell famously but anonymously briefed the media, describing Brown as "psychologically flawed". As a man who suffered a nervous breakdown due to his reliance on alcohol, this was a insult that Campbell knew would deeply anger Brown. Charles Clarke, giving a second interview in quick succession, this time to the Telegraph, must have been thinking along similar lines.

He says the Chancellor has "psychological" issues that he must confront and accuses him of being a "control freak" and "totally uncollegiate".

Mr Brown is also "deluded", he says, to think that Mr Blair can and should anoint him as his successor now.
Clarke had earlier called Brown "absolutely stupid" for daring to smile when he left Downing Street on Wednesday, an image that was snapped and appeared on the front of the Daily Mail for the nation to enjoy. What's been more surprising about Clarke's outbursts was that it was a poorly kept secret that Clarke had been making covert moves towards ending his poor relationship with the Chancellor; it had been assumed that Clarke might make a return to a reasonably high profile ministerial post once Brown did take over.

It's Clarke's talk of psychological problems though that really casts the mind back over his own ministerial career, and it's only fair to go even further back to start with. There's a possibly apocryphal story, but one which has stood the test of time. Back when he worked for Hackney council in the 1980s, he came to be known as No Trousers Charlie. While it's hard to imagine many women finding the safety elephant, complete with Marx style beard a sex symbol, Clarke apparently was lucky enough to persuade a young lady to return to his place after a night out, for a coffee. He duly went to the kitchen, made two mugs of the finest Maxwell House, and returned to his date, only for her to flee screaming. The reason? The urge to remove his trousers while boiling the kettle had become too great.

While smearing Clarke over potentially untrue stories from the 80s may strike many as unfair, his record as Home Secretary may make some wonder whether he has psychological issues of his own. Describing his reign at the Home Office as "tough but not populist" in a interview after his downfall, this was surprising to those of us who had actually witnessed his attempts to
wallop the liberal press who questioned his restrictions on civil liberties. That his speech to the LSE came only two days before the foreign prisoner scandal broke was purely coincidental. In the process of getting the "glorifying terrorism" clause of 2006 act through the Commons, he slurred human rights lawyers for suggesting that they had a vested interest in opposing his plans. That the opposite was the case, as human rights lawyers' work would probably be increased as a result didn't stop him from opening his trap. On ID cards, Clarke did his best to do the opposite of what the Labour manifesto had promised. He attempted to force a compulsory scheme through the House of Lords, while the manifesto had said that the government would only introduce a voluntary scheme. It was after 5 rounds of "parliamentary ping-pong" that the Lords agreed to a compromise which meant that those renewing their passport before 2010 could opt out of having to get an ID card at the same time.

With Clarke at the helm, the disgraceful banning of protests within a mile of parliament without prior permission also became law, mainly in an attempt to get rid of pesky Brian Haw, who so annoyed the Dear Leader by ringing a bell as he went to PMQs of a Wednesday. Clarke also gave in to Blair's disastrous desire to detain terrorist suspects for up to 90 days without charge, something that he clearly didn't believe in,
resulting in the government's biggest humiliation in parliament so far.

In retrospect, and with John "we hope to leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot" Reid as the new home secretary, Clarke seems to have been an old-fashioned bleeding heart, but the reality was quite different. In any case, Clarke has thoroughly blotted his copy book now. Unless a "third way" candidate emerges to defeat Gordon, something incredibly unlikely, then he faces spending the rest of his time in politics in the wilderness. Stupid Gordon? More like petulant and embittered Charles.

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