Former Labour home secretary Charles Clarke savaged his party's chance at the general election. Photo: Getty
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Charles Clarke: Tories set to win general election and Kinnock a better leader than Miliband

The former Labour cabinet minister launched a vicious attack on Ed Miliband and his party.

The Conservatives are set to sweep to victory at next year’s general election, former Labour home secretary Charles Clarke has declared.

Clarke warned that Ed Miliband’s One Nation Labour party “has no narrative” and has failed to “set out a clear statement of what Labour would actually do”.

Instead the party has set out an “assembly of odd policies like the electricity [price] freeze or whatever”, he said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

He also declared former Labour leader Neil Kinnock a far better head of the party than Ed Miliband. A former chief of staff to Kinnock, Clarke said: “Neil has far, far more qualities than Ed Miliband as a leader”.

He added: “Neil was a fantastic leader and brought Labour back towards victory.”

Lending credence to the Conservative line that Labour overspent under Gordon Brown’s stewardship, Clarke said his party “started overspending in 2006”.

“We had very tight control prior to that, we had the situation running well,” he said, adding: “from about 2006 until 2008 we did overspend, not very, very dramatically but significantly, and we should have had the controls on”.

He also slammed Miliband’s choice of chancellor. “I think it would be better for Labour if Alistair [Darling] was there rather than Ed Balls,” he said.

Clarke, who lost his parliamentary seat in 2010, has attacked the Labour leadership in the past, but delivered the most deadly blow yet with his comment that “ the most likely outcome is a Tory overall majority”.

He also attacked former Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Taking a further dig at Miliband by remarking that Blair would “have every chance of being elected prime minister” in 2015 were he Labour leader again, Clarke nonetheless criticised the former Prime Minister for amassing a personal fortune through his business interests.

Clarke said: “There is no question that he has damaged his reputation. The money has damaged his reputation, some of his contacts have damaged the reputation, some aspects of the way he's spent his life have damaged his reputation.”

He censured Brown for his poor attendance record in Parliament: “He's an elected member of parliament. If he doesn't want to be an MP he should stand down.”

Miliband and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper also came under attack for making “ignorant and ill-informed statements” about Labour's immigration record.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump