Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Charles Clarke is a big hitter"

In the early 1970s, the Communist Party had to find a "useful idiot" to stand for president of the National Union of Students. In those days, the CP dominated student politics, so its choice would almost certainly be elected to the top post.

The Communist Party formed what was called the "broad left". Its members would choose the candidate, after the CP had already met to determine how they should vote. As a rank and file comrade, I backed the more flamboyant Alastair Stewart, who went on to become a newsreader. But it was "fat boy" who was the chosen one and he went on to win. He was never a remarkable student leader, but he did have the advantage of not being a communist.

Now, by taking over from Estelle Morris as Education Secretary, Clarke thinks he's nearly made it and actually believes he could one day be prime minister. Yet as Labour Party chairman, all he managed to do was launch a crusade against the media and upset even the most mild-mannered union leaders. He made the job of the man really running the Labour machine, the former communist David Triesman, much more difficult. Triesman must secretly be delighted that another of my ex-comrades, John Reid, is taking Clarke's place.

Tony Blair no doubt thinks that having Clarke in a top cabinet job will upset the Chancellor. It will certainly upset teachers, who will not take kindly to his bully-boy tactics. Gordon Brown can no doubt look after himself, as can the media. But does Blair really want a minister who scatters four-letter words as liberally as Clarke does? Perhaps Blair, too, sees him as a useful idiot.