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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Blair seeks to refocus campaign
Tony Blair addressing Usdaw workers in Blackpool
Mr Blair says no government ever fails to make mistakes
Tony Blair is seeking to repair the damage done to Labour's local election prospects by the scandals engulfing John Prescott and the home secretary.

The prime minister has urged supporters in the north-west of England to think about the government's achievements - and not the last few days' headlines.

Charles Clarke is due to update him on efforts to track down foreign prisoners who were released without deportation.

David Cameron has demanded the home secretary make a statement to MPs.

'Say goodbye'

Both the home secretary and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who has admitted having an affair with his diary secretary, are resisting pressure to resign.

Mr Prescott is meeting the prime minister on Tuesday afternoon but Downing Street says the talks are only "routine".

With the two ministers' actions crowding out any positive message Labour had hoped to get across before Thursday's local elections in England, Mr Blair is trying to steer the campaign back on course.

The public have a right to know what the government is doing to clear up a pretty sizeable disaster
David Davis

On the ninth anniversary of becoming prime minister, he acknowledged that the government had been going through a difficult period but urged people to look at the "bigger picture" before they voted on Thursday.

Speaking to the retail workers' union Usdaw in Blackpool, Mr Blair said people should remember the party's achievements on the economy, schools, hospitals, for pensioners and children and in anti-social laws.

"It has been difficult, but nine days' headlines should not obscure nine years of achievements," he said.

He also thanked supporters for sticking with Labour when times had been tough, saying it was something the government should never forget "because it is the right way for colleagues and partners to behave".

Mr Clarke is facing demands from the Conservatives to make an urgent statement to the Commons about progress in tracing those 1,023 foreign prisoners who were released without being considered for deportation.

Mr Cameron urged Mr Blair to carry out a Cabinet reshuffle and "say goodbye" to Mr Clarke.

Progress report

"We need the home secretary to provide reassurance and he can't do that unless he provides a full Commons statement," the Conservative leader told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said that while it was obvious Mr Clarke "has to go", the Tories were calling for the creation of a minister for security and terrorism, which would leave the Home Office to "get to grips with" immigration.

I would have thought it was better for him to go, because people will expect the matter to be put right, and how long do you give somebody?
Lindsay Hoyle
Labour MP

The Home Office has resisted making a statement on progress at the moment, arguing that Mr Clarke would come back to Parliament with a progress report by the end of the week.

It has emerged that Mr Clarke took three weeks to tell the prime minister the criminals, including murderers, had been freed.

The Home Office said Mr Blair was briefed when officials were in a position to give him full details.

The mistakes occurred over the past seven years, but 288 immigrants were released after Mr Clarke knew of the problem.

'Reshuffle needed'

Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle said it was clear Mr Clarke should resign.

"I would say now I think he ought to reconsider his position - I think politicians ought to be responsible for their actions," he told BBC Five Live.

Following a weekend of further revelations about Mr Prescott's affair with his secretary, Mr Cameron commented that while it was "a private matter, clearly he looks a fool".

"I think if he has broken the ministerial code and if he has abused his office in that way it should be looked at," he told Today.

Mr Cameron said Mr Prescott had tried to force regionalisation on communities who did not want it and had bulldozed homes in the north of England, while concreting over the south.

"He has a pretty woeful record," he added.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Labour was clearly "on the ropes" and was "failing nationally and locally".

"It is now inevitable than many voters will use Thursday's poll as a referendum on the prime minister," he said.

See Blair out on the campaign trail


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