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Charles Clarke interview in full

Here is a the full transcript of James Macintyre's interview with Labour politician Charles Clarke w

"British jobs for British workers"

James Macintyre:

Touching on this week's events: you were the first senior figure to come out and denounce Gordon Brown for the phrase "British jobs for British workers that has come back to haunt him this week: what are your reflections on that at this stage?"

Charles Clarke:

Well I thought it was a foolish phrase to use. Foolish because while we remain members of the European Union, we specifically exclude the possibility of prohibiting EU residents from working in this country, and that is a deliberate act that all parties entered into when we joined the EU - it's nothing to do with recent developments and is the environment political and economic in which we not live, and it's therefore an unimplementable phrase. The question in this current dispute in Linconshire, is whether or not ir is actually the case that the various parties concerned - the contractor, the company - are obeying European law and not discriminating. From the information given to Parliament today by Peter Mandelson, it seems absolutely clear that they are obeying the law, in which case I'm not clear what the issue is. But I didn't like the phrase initially and I said so at the time.

Economy and public services

JM:

And just more broadly, I am not trying to get you into the anti-Gordon stuff, but there is now again a renewed sense of drift, that there's a lack of vision, lack of narrative - doesn't Brown need to be more than just a finance minister and articulate his message in a more rounded way going forward do you think?

CC:

Well I think his great strength is in the economic field. I think he handles the situation extremely well in September and October; he was a figure of great authority at a time when the international and economic world needed great authority. He was prepared to act and I think he deserves real credit for that...So I think that his position is strong. I think the case always needs to be better articulated and that's important. But I don't myself think the next general election will be won or lost on our conduct on the economy: I mean our political enemies hope it will be, and some of our political friends hope it will be too. I think it will be won by the party which best demonstrates the importance and significance of both the economic crisis, and Barack Obama's election, for the future. Now, I believe that both of these events signal the end of thirty years - from 1979 / '80 - of what I think of as Raegen-Thatcherism, which was a set of ideological beliefs covering the running of the economy, covering issues like the role of the state, taxation, the international situation - to which Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were basically responding rather than creating a new thought framework, and we are now in the need for that new thought framework. And I think the task for Labour therefore - including Gordon Brown but for Labour right across the range - is to make clear that we have understood it

and we have got positive answers to it...that goes right across the whole range - certainly the economy, but also social policy and constitutional reform, international policy are all part of that.

JM:

And we'll come back to the wider international scene but here, do you buy the view of some - including the Archbishop of Canterbury - who endorsed the idea that there is a sort of crisis for capitalism; that Keynsianism has been vindicated - and even Marx's approach, and that now the Tories have been caught in a sort of monetarist retreat and will be wrong-footed at the next election?

CC:

I can't comment on the Archbishop of Canterbury - what he said or not - because I haven't studied it closely although I respect him greatly. I've always been a Keynesian, through my own education, studying economics at Kings College Cambridge: you couldn't do anything other than be a Keynesian, and I believe that his understanding that the state had to act rather than not to act, to deal with the inefficencies and incompetencies of markets - which was absolutely the main message of the 1930s - is absolutely that very same message today. Now there's then a debate of course about what form of action is necessary - Keynes was very keen to try and separate as far as he could the basic finance of life - your mortgage, your pension, whatever it might be - from casino capitalism, the phrase he used. And I think that over the last couple of decades, those two things have come too close together, and that's one of the reasons why individuals just leading their everyday lives - buying their house, having their pension, whatever - have got sucked into such an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and we have to erect new institutions and new barriers to make it more possible for people to live their lives ordinarily.

JM:

Just still on the domestic agenda: One of the things Brown could talk a bit more about is public service reform. Given the big squeeze on spending that is to come, can Labour just drift into the next election without a serious agenda on public service reform?

CC:

No of course we have to have a very serious agenda on public service reform. I wrote a pamphlet in July on so-called co-payment, a kind of nerdy subject, but I believe very carefully we've got to rethink the basic principles of our public finance; we've got to think who the beneficiaries are - it's got to be much more efficient, much tighter. I've always argued as a Cabinet minister that we have far too many civil servants working nationally for example. We need to be more efficient, we need to have a clearer structure. And as far as the actual delivery of public services is concerned - schools hospitals and so on - we absolutely have to have a reform agenda focused absolutely on the users of those services. Now we've moved a long way in that regard but we've got a lot further to go.

JM:

What do you make of Ed Balls's performance? He clashed with you reportedly on higher education fees, for which you made a social democratic case [when Education Secretary], is he holding back public service reform now?

CC:

No I don't think so. No no, I don't think that would be right at all. I think he's learnt from some of his previous views and that's good - for example on academies and so on. My biggest worry in the educational field is in the 18-plus examination range, where I think we should have accepted Mike Tomlinson's report, and I very much regret that didn't happen under Tony Blair's premiership, and I think that's what we should be doing now, and I think having an effective market between the diplomas, the A-levels and the international Baccalaureate, is a very destabilizing thing for education, and I think is a big big problem.

Constitutional reform

JM:

Just on constitutional reform, which continues to be a big interest for you: looking back at the sweep of New Labour in office under Blair and now Brown, hasn't it been a big failure really on what Roy Jenkins called "breaking the mould" issues: Lib-Labbery, elected second chamber - you must be disappointed with that record.

CC:

Not at all: the extent of change over these past twelve years has been absolutely extraordinary. There has been more constitutional reform over this period than really ever in history, both in the Lords and in the introduction of different forms of voting than First Past the Post in the European elections and local elections in some places and so on. Not to mention the Freedom of Information Act, the Human Rights Act, devolution to Scotland, Wales; elected assembly for London, mayor of London - these are an incredible set of changes. My concern is that we've done the first part but not the second part, and therefore - you mentioned an elected second chamber for example: I couldn't agree more. I think we need an elected second chamber, and we need to get there as fast as possible, and this recent kerfuffle just illustrates the reason for that. I think we need a stronger House of Commons, and I think there are a number of steps that could be taken to strengthen the Commons, and I still think we have not sorted out properly the relationship between democratic local government and national government, and I still think we need a new partnership between local government and national government to carry that through. So essentially we've been more reforming, more radical government than anyone in history, but we have to follow that through to its conclusion, because there is a danger in some areas that we leave a slightly unstable state of affairs which would be extremely unfortunate.

JM:

And just on proportional representation for Westminster - wouldn't that usher in a whole new culture where the centre of gravity in politics and the media would be moved slightly leftwards, so that politicians didn't have to in election campaigns play to marginal seats and the rightwing press.

CC:

Not in my view. I'm opposed to proportional representation. I'm actually in favour of the Alternative Vote. And the reason I favour AV, is I favour the constituency base of our system. I think the constituency is extremely important, and I would never support any chance which got rid of constituencies, and no PR system can [avoid] that. I'm also actually not in favour - as in for example Israel - of allowing relatively small tails to wag the dog by virtue of the pure PR system, so I oppose pure PR both because we want the constituency system, and because I think you have to demonstrate a basic level of support in order to be elected at all. And I see no evidence it would be more stable to have a proportionate system. That said, I do think AV would be a step forward, and I would support it.

JM:

And what about a merger with the Liberal Democrats - there was a piece in last week's New Statesman by Sunder Katwala calling for it, I just wondered if you were in favour -

CC:

I saw Sunder's piece. I thought it was an interesting piece and I was a bit surprised by it in some ways. He mentioned me a couple of times rightly, because I have always favoured dialogue between ourselves and the Lib Dems. I think dialogue is necessary and to that end I've gone to their party conferences and spoken and that kind of thing. But I am absolutely not in favour of merger - I don't think merger is the right way to go at all, and in fact I don;t think merger would help anything. I think there is a quite different party position, and what I said to their party conference this year and it remains my view, is that the Lib Dems still have a characteristic of the politics of the gutter in the way that they operate: they are fundamentally still oppositionist, whether opposition to Labour or opposition to the Conservatives, and they use a whole lot of techniques that reflect that. Now within them there are some people of great integrity and perfectly decent people but they have an element to them which is purely oppositionist and my own view is that Nick Clegg hasn't yet succeeded in giving them any clear sense of direction which takes them away from being 'agin' the other lot. Now historically in some parts of the Celtic region of the country and some parts of Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the south west, they were able to develop out of the history of that part of the country as an authentic force. But until they can stop being just against things, I think it's difficult. But that said I am always in favour of dialogue with them - I think talking is a great thing.

US, Middle East and other international affairs

JM:

Just moving on to foreign policy, can I just get you to reiterate your assessment again of the real significance of Obama's victory, plus the fact that he came to office on an open platform of 'sharing the wealth' and he also opposed the Iraq invasion from the beginning unlike Hillary Clinton - he clearly does mark a different kind of approach.

CC:

What I feel is this: my view of the great sweep of things is that from 1945 to 1989 you had a bipolar world - US and USSR - the Cold War, which framed the way everybody looked at the world, the way all politics evolved. From 1989 to 9-11 2001, it was a more fluid situation but it then became a situation with 9-11 in which really it was a unipolar world - America trying to run the world, with George Bush's 'axis of evil' and all the rest of it. I believe the Congressional elections in 2006 were a statement from America that the uni-polar world could no-longer operate. And that was brought to its conclusion with the election of Barack Obama. So I think we are in a world that - despite the great support for Barack Obama which there is - where the era of the uni-polar American lead is no longer there. So the question then arises: if it's not a uni-polar world, and it's not a bi-polar world, what kind of world is it, how will it operate? And I argue that it's obvious that countries like China, India, can and should play a greater role in the running of the world, which requires them - as with Russia actually - to take greater responsibility - there was an interesting piece about this by Putin just last week - but also it means for Europe, we have to have a far more coherent and activist position, and instead of just standing by watching Obama and saying 'how's he going to do, we wish him well' - we haver to think what are we going to do, in order to address that future. And I don't think that is yet strong enough in Europe - we've shown ourselves pretty ineffective, for example in the divisions on the recognition of Kosovo, or the situation in Gaza, or on Georgia where we've had divisions all over the place, and I say Europe has to get it together. Finally, I think we have to say that the techniques and approaches that we followed in the past, are not the ones of the future. So, I see no case for renewing Trident, I think it is absolutely a weapon of a past conflict - the Cold War which ended in 1989 - and I believe that actually the strategic missile system, which I think was a Bush administration preoccupation, made it very difficult to establish strong relations with Russia, and I'm interested that Russia is taking this initiative on strategic missiles just last week - I'm told that within the US Administration there's serious talk about pulling out of the US strategic missile system which I would strongly, strongly favour. In the case of Iraq, we have to have dialogue with Iran - we have to have dialogue with Syria, we can no longer have this idea that we can;t talk with others. So Obama means an enormous change. It's being discussed as though the biggest change is of an African American coming to power, which is completely important, but actually it is miles more than that.

JM:

Just briefly on Gaza there, and on Britain's role which was demonstrated as quite weak - you had this kind of power vacuum in the States; Israel took advantage of that arguably, cynically, moved in at that time - Brown did fail to properly condemn Israel, and Europe has failed Gaza really over aid -

CC:

I don't really go with that you know. Gaza was an absolutely appalling event. It was shocking. Israel's behaviour - the use of white phosphorous, some of its positions - were just completely, utterly unacceptable. But the idea that a condemnation from Gordon Brown or from the EU, could have changed that set of events I think is quite wrong. And we have to use all of our power to try and work with others - that's why I say a stronger EU position is very important - to maximize our influence, whether it's on arms going into the region, whether it's on diplomatic initiatives, whatever it might happen to be. But I think that those who simply say we just have to condemn more and that solves it - I completely don't agree.

JM:

Well in that case on a practical move, surely it's time to talk to Hamas, in the way that we brought in the IRA before they gave up their commitment to a united Ireland; we're now told that we can't talk to Hamas until they recognise Israel, which they partially have done - isn't it time to deal with Hamas?

CC:

Well of course we have to deal with Hamas, it's an absolute reality -

JM:

They're elected -

CC:

No, that's not of itself the argument, because at the end of the day if they behave in a way that is completely unacceptable, and I mean if you take the President of Iran's statements - and he was elected too - about eliminating Israel, I don't think we should say, well that's OK - you're elected so it's Ok to eliminate Israel - you can't do that; you need to apply a certain number of basic conditions, which are the pre-conditions of peace and one is the right of the state of Israel to exist, and another is the right of Palestine to live in peace. These are there, and you have to just work all the time to try and move them forward.

JM:

Well then is there part of you or was there, that questions the Bush-Blair approach of 'spreading democracy' around the Middle East in that case if you don't think their elected results are necessarily valid?

CC:

Not in the slightest, in fact I still to this day believe as we did in Iraq and I know many people on the left and certainly the New Statesman were strongly against, and that's fair enough but I think it was correct. And in fact just last week I had two meetings which absolutely convinced me of this, the first was a meeting of the Royal Anglians who had been serving in Basra, here last Monday, where they made a very powerful exhibition of what has been achieved by British forces by bringing democracy and peace and stopping violence. And then a meeting of the Dawa party of the present prime minister of Iraq describing how change has happened, and then of course last weekend the provincial elections for the first time ever, involving the Sunnis, involving all forces in Iraq - now do I think all of this is nothing, if I compare what has been achieved today, to what would have been the case otherwise, which would have been Saddam and his family running the country in a tyrannical situation; obviously I have to acknowledge the terrible loss that there has been in between, but I can;t say the outcome is worse that what we had when we started.

...I am critical of the failure to talk to Syria and Iran and I think having been to Syria and met the President of Syria last year, I am strongly of the view that Syria and Iran have to be contributors to a settled position, rather than not, and I think that catagorising them just as some sort of axis of evil is wrong and unhelpful. But in terms of the fundamental question of were we right to go in [to Iraq] I absolutely think we were right to go in, and by the way I think events are proving that.

JM:

And just finally, just on Iraq, without raking over the debating points on it, Blair sold off, to put it crudely, our foreign policy quite early on - by 2002 we know from the Manning memo - he had agreed to regime change in principle. Are there lessons to be learned there about the independence of British foreign policy?

CC:

Well I don't really accept the description. I don't think he sold out British foreign policy to the Americans, I don't think he was Bush's poodle, I don't think the 'Yo Blair' event demonstrated some depth about the relationship which wasn't there -

JM:

But after 11 September he did back Bush essentially whatever he did didn't he?

CC:

No I don't think he did actually - I think on many other questions he didn't, on this question he did because he rightly identified the threat that al Qu'ida placed to everything we hold dear, as absolutely fundamental, so you go through freedom of elections, freedom of religion, freedom of religions, right of women to play a role in public life, rule of law - absolutely fundamental values which we have struggled for in this country over centuries - all of which al Qu'ida's ambition is to destroy, and that is what they are about - destroying it. Now do we just say well that's OK, or do we say actually no, we're going to fight back. And I'll make a further democratic point, which always strikes me as powerful: when I go back and look at my own life, when I was a student and in student politics, about 30 to 35 years ago, the issues we had - apartheid South Africa - no longer; colonialist southern Africa - Mozambique, Angola; fascist western Europe - that was Spain, Portugal; militarist Greece; totalitarian eastern Europe - absolutely terrible; in Latin America and central America, militarist dictatorships of the worst kind - Chile, Nicaragua and so on and so forth - now all of these things which were our campaign themes then: actually, we've made fantastic progress. I don't say life in these countries is perfect today - it's not -0 but you have got some form of democracy that is established, and is a better way of people living. Even Northern Ireland which was very difficult - we've finally got to a point which is near a point of having a normal form of life. The only major exception - there are some small ones - the only major exception is the Middle East, and that of course has been a story of failure throughout the whole of this time - failure, and important to understand why, but a set of different discussions - but the idea that democracy somehow is something the Arabs won't have, but everyone else in the world does, I think is deeply insulting, and I think is not true.

JM:

Racist arguably.

CC:

Yes.

JM:

On Afghanistan, do you envisage some tension between the UK and US over troop commitment as the quagmire deepens there?

CC:

Again on Afghanistan you've got a serious problem - again right to go in, but you've got to be very serious about it. Paddy Ashdown wrote a good piece in the form of a letter to the American envoy in the paper today. It's not so much question of more commitment from us - that's very important - but it is more commitment from the rest of the western world. And not to have these ridiculous constraints about who can fight where and what they do. Now that's what I mean about the key question for us is, where is Europe going on all this? Are we saying in principle - there's a chunk of Europe that says actually we're just going to live in our own corner, and not do that much else and hope that it all works out all right on the night - they thought that on Lebanon in 2006, they think it to an extent on Gaza - they just think it's all terrible, and the point is the election of Obama removes the alibis - their previous alibi was that it was just Bush; but the alibis are gone...

The Euro

JM:

Just finally - forgive me - on the Euro. You are clearly a supporter publicly. We can't just keep pretending the Euro doesn't exist can we?

CC:

Well it's a very difficult political and economic question now. I've always been a supporter of being in the Euro. Two of the reasons why I was a supporter were firstly it would protect our currency against speculation of the type we are seeing now, and second that it would give our traders, our manufacturers, a stable trading environment to build their businesses...so I am actually of the view unfashionably, that it would have been better had we joined the Euro in 1998, where I also think we would have got better terms for joining - we would have got a central bank that would have reflected more what we were doing with our central back; we would have had more accountability, we'd have had more influence...in the whole development of economic policy. That didn't happen.

JM:

And - sorry - there would have been some of the regulation that we now...

CC:

I think the regulatory, yeah I think the regulatory regime which probably would have reduced some of the more risky forms of financial activity - slightly difficult to say that but I certainly think it's worth looking at that Now does that say we should join today. Well it doesn't really, I just think we've just got to see how this current situation evolves and see where we move forward. I'm not calling today to say 'join the Euro' - I think there will be some changes - I think the decision to bring Iceland onto a fast track is interesting - tiny country - and I personally think that Denmark will think about joining the Euro much faster than would otherwise have been the case - and I think the security of a strong currency will appear more attractive, so I think we are in a process of some evolution, where we should just continue with an open mind, just looking at what's best for Britain in those circumstances. So I am not up on my high horse saying 'go Euro today' but I am of the view that it would have probably been better if we had gone Euro ten years ago.

Charles Clarke's position

JM:

Can I just move on to you finally. First of all how are you? You are one of the intellectual big beasts of Labour - and you clearly have as man ideas now as you always have - it must be frustrating being on the backbenches, or not?

CC:

Personally, I feel great. I've had now nearly three years out of government, and I've found that refreshing intellectually in some ways - I've done a whole string of speeches on where we ought to go and what we ought to do - I've been able to refresh myself to some extent, and that's all good. I've enjoyed spending some more time on some of my constituency work which is also good - it's exciting to do. I've enjoyed having less stress than you have when you're a government minister - there;s no question, particularly in some of the roles I held, there is a lot of stress attached and I feel liberated from that. That's all on the positive side. On the negative side, I've always enjoyed being in government - I felt I could make a difference in certain areas, I was proud of some of the things I did and I miss not being able to do that. What's difficult is to know how it would play [coming back into government], I mean I've always for example to be a transport minister, but I think this Heathrow [third runway extension] decision was completely wrong, and it's slightly difficult to know how it would work in these positions. Because for Example what I've just said about Trident and the strategic missile initiative - they are not the policy of the government, and working for a government for which these are the policies - or which working for the renewal of Trident is the policy and so on - is not easy. So I wouldn't enjoy that tension, but of course if could find a role in government I would be absolutely delighted to do it, I'd enjoy doing it. And I also am frustrated - I suppose the second downside - is I don't think we're doing enough yet to prepare the story that we want to tell about the future at the next election which remains very important, because my driving force above all others is to win power at the next election for Labour - that's what's motivated me since 1980, working through with Neil Kinnock and all the rest of it. And obviously the polls aren't good at the moment and I want to be able to do all I can to maximize our performance then.

Clarke's 2006 sacking by Blair

JM:

We'll come back to what role you might do in a minute if that's all right, but just looking back at your premature and arguably unfair departure when you were Home Secretary under Blair - he threw you to the wolves of the rightwing press - do you think there was a bit of that over the 'foreign prisoner' affair?

CC:

I think he was very weak. I said to him when I was appointed after the 2005 general election - I'd been Home Secretary before - and he asked me then again after he'd been elected, and before the issues had been how could we deal with the issues we had to to go through the election successfully - and I said there are real, real problems, and I think this is a three or four year job. I would love to do it, and I think I have the capacity to do it, but it will be a question of really acknowledging there was going to be some bad things coming along the way. Foreign national prisoners was one of those bad things. Because I started going into the prison population in ways that hadn't been done for a long time, I turned up this issue as it were coming up from under a stone, about the very large number of foreign nationals, went through it, and then lost a key point in the discussion, about controlling the situation - we were trying to do too many things. I thought he should have seen it through. In fact he told me as late as the Wednesday before he sacked me that was going to see it through.

JM:

Did he?

CC:

Yes, after Prime Minister's Questions, that Wednesday, in his office, in the Speaker's chair, and I think that's what he should have done. I think he was very preoccupied about the local elections that day, and some argued that my performance was the cause of a bad result in the local elections that day - which actually I don't think was the case: a) we didn't have that bad a result, b) there were other factors like what was going on with John Prescott and so on. And secondly there was a general pressure on Tony with the possible leadership challenge coming round the corner that was all being talked about. And I think he felt he had to act and not allow the media to get at him, and not allow the media to get at him, and I think I was a victim of that and I think it was serious weakness on Tony's part, and I regret it and for all I know he regrets it as well, but there we are - that's life. As I said at the time it was his right, I thought he was wring to do it - it remains one of the very few examples I think of there being no resignation letter: I didn't write a letter to resign because I didn't resign: I was sacked from that job, and I didn't wish to do that.

JM:

Is it true he shed a tear in the Downing Street garden when -

CC:

No I don't think so, no - I talked to him a couple of times the night before, but there was certainly nothing like that I don't think.

Role of media

JM:

Right. Just in brackets on this - coming back to you [in a moment] - do you think that's a general problem with both Blair and Brown that they do things to please particularly the Murdoch tabloid press, before the interests of the Labour party sometimes. It holds back a radicalism.

CC:

I don't make that criticism because, Enoch Powell once said the media are the sea in which we swim, and that is the case, and I think pretending you can kind of just forget the media is quite wrong. Tony did something very unpopular on becoming leader - he went out explicitly to court the media, in particular Rupert Murdoch, but not only Rupert Murdoch, in a way that no Labour leader had done going back to possibly Harold Wilson in the early days.

JM:

Did he go too far, especially with Murdoch, given Murdoch's -

CC:

Well I wouldn't, it depends on whether you think the election victories we've had were worthwhile or not - I think they were worthwhile and I think it required facing up to that - now I would say that after the first two or three years we were lacking in courage on what we needed to do and take forward, and I think there is an interesting argument to have on that, but that doesn't really derive from just being cowardly in front of the media -

JM:

But sorry - you imply there that the election victories were as a result of the media support. Now, obviously that's true to an extent, but hasn't there always been - not by you because you saw the nastiness of the Murdoch press when you were with Kinnock - but hasn't there always been a slight sense that Rupert Murdoch determines election results, which he clearly doesn't, in other words if Blair just did what he wanted to do, Murdoch would back him if he was still going to win, and Brown -

CC:

Of course. No, I couldn't agree more. I think the fact is that the power of the media is overstated in certain circumstances, and that's why we could have stood out against it more, and I think we should have stood out against it more. And I think there are some aspects of the power of the media which are quite pernicious, in the way that they make certain trends of opinion move in British society, and I do think we could and should have been stronger about that. But the example of me where you started, is only a very small example of that - a much bigger example is the attitude to the Euro -

JM:

Yes, and his u-turn on the [EU] constitution which Irwin Steltzer requested in Downing Street.

CC:

Which u-turn on the constitution?

JM:

Apparently Steltzer went in and said 'unless you commit to holding a referendum on what was then the constitution - we will withdraw the support of the Times and the Sun -

CC:

Oh yes sorry of course, on the European - no no that wasn't that; that was Jack Straw who changed that position, and Jack changed it quite wrongly, and Tony didn't stop it.

More on Clarke's sacking

JM:

Right. Just back to you and back to that period. Blair offered you Defence, is that right?

CC:

Actually it is right but it's wider than that - when I left the government then he basically was very open: he wanted me to stay in his government; if there was anything I would like to do other than obviously Chancellor or Foreign Secretary, then he would think about doing that. He explicitly offered Defense, but he also went further - whether there was something else I thought I should do. I've often thought whether I should have changed my view -

JM:

That was my next question: do you regret that, not keeping your foot on the Cabinet ladder?

CC:

I don't really regret it because I, the truth was I felt I'd been judged to have failed critically in a critical responsibility as Home Secretary, and I thought if that was the case, for me to have been judged on that and then say 'well that's all right I'll just tale something else' - it just didn't, it didn't go - I didn't think it was right. And so I just couldn't do it and I couldn't kind of say 'oh that's all right I'll go and do something completely different', and so I don't regret that. I had other things I could have done - I had other things I could have done: I had very senior civil servants in my department who said they would resign or be sacked by me if they thought it would enable, to be a sacrificial person - and some people might do that - I thought it would be completely wrong, it wasn't the way in which I thought that people should act. And so I don't regret it really. I obviously have back thoughts from time to time, but I don't think that I definitely should have done that or gone through it.

Blair's Foreign Secretary plan for Clarke

JM:

On a question that is linked to the emphasis of the interview today, the question of the Foreign Secretary job - it is very much said in Blair circles that he wanted to make you Foreign Secretary, and that you'd have been an excellent Foreign Secretary.

CC:

It's very interesting: I knew nothing of this. Tony told me the next day, the day after he sacked me, that he wanted to make me Foreign Secretary -

JM:

When Beckett [got it] -

CC:

Yes, and I was staggered when he said this. He said it had long been his plan to make me Foreign Secretary: that's what he wanted to be the case. He invited -

JM:

Told you this sorry the day after -

CC:

The day after he sacked me. And he and Cherie then asked Carol and my wife down to Chequers, a week after, for a dinner just the four of us, and we went right through it - he had a great plan, apparently, that he wanted me to be Foreign Secretary, because he thought that if I'd been Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary I would be a credible opponent to Gordon, as the leader of the party, and this had been his long-standing strategy, and that was what he had been intending to do, and that's what he hoped to do. Which ran against of course what I had said to him about feeling I needed to do Home Secretary for three or four years. I knew nothing about this until after the event, and I said to him if he was nice enough to think I ought to be leader of the party, then he might as well have been courteous enough to tell me this was his plan.

JM:

And he did explicitly say he saw you as the next leader of the party?

CC:

Not as 'the' but as a candidate for, and I'm not saying he would have supported me or anything of that kind, but he certainly saw me as a potential candidate against Gordon. And I also know that Peter [Mandelson] in particular, and also some other people, argued with him that during that reshuffle, I should then be pushed up to Foreign Secretary. Had he offered that, then I would have accepted. And I made that clear because there were some back-channels that went around at that time, through the middle of that night. But I never thought it was likely and in fact I only learned about it as a real possibility, with the conversations afterwards. Now why he decided not to given what he thought I don't know - you'd have to ask him. But I believe that that takes you back to the scapegoat point earlier - I think he needed an explanation to what he thought was a bad local election result, and I was that explanation, and I have no time for what he did then. As far as now is concerned, it is completely a matter for Gordon. I think David Miliband is a very good Foreign Secretary and I say that without qualification. I think he's got the right approach, the right attitude, and I think he should stay doing that. But as I said to Gordon before he became prime minister - we talked about it - if ever he wants me to serve in his government I certainly would be ready to, but anything would be a matter for him.

Clarke and Gordon Brown

JM:

Do you mind me asking when the last time you had contact with Gordon was?

CC:

The last time I had a significant conversation with him was in Christmas 2007 - I've had a couple of conversations with him in passing in the corridor but they are only very brief conversations this year.

JM:

Do you mind me asking what was said?

CC:

No. You can ask but I shan't say. And I've also talked to a couple of people from Number Ten, but I don't have any serious dialogue with Gordon now and I haven't had any serious dialogue with Gordon for over a year now, but I'm always ready as he knows - I'm always ready to talk if he wants to talk.

The leadership

JM:

And are you still in the frame for the leadership?

CC:

I don't think so really. I don;t think we've got a leadership issue. Gordon will lead us into the next election -

JM:

Do you think that's right, that he should do?

CC:

I do, yes. I mean we went through the process last year - Gordon made his own view clear, the party made it clear. You won't have from me or I think other people, leadership issues being raised, and that's where we are. And I'm not putting myself forward for the leadership or anything of that kind.

JM:

If he was to lose the leadership election would you run?

CC:

Um, I haven't really thought about it - the answer's almost certainly 'No'.

JM:

Why not?

CC:

I've had a very long time in Opposition, working for Neil. I have heard people strategizing that I should try and lead the party after we've been defeated: I prefer to do my best to ensure that we win.

JM:

In that case, if he wins, presumably you think he shouldn't then serve a full next term - that question and would you run if Labour was still in office?

CC:

I don't expect ever to run for the leadership of the Labour party. I've always said in all circumstances that I would judge any circumstances when it arose at any given time, and that is the position. I don;t think you can predict the circumstances of these things. But I absolutely am not looking for the leadership and that's not part of my thought process of where we are.

JM:

And just very finally, given that, are there any figures you rate high enough for the leadership in the future - people talk about an Ed Miliband, James Purnell -

CC:

I think there are about five or six people in the current Cabinet who would be perfectly good leaders of the Labour party - in some cases very good leaders of the Labour party - and the idea there isn;t an alternative, is in my opinion entirely wrong.

JM:

Thank you very much indeed.

CC:

Okay.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.