Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 15:12 UK

Clarke 'ashamed' to be Labour MP

Charles Clarke: 'The right decisions weren't taken'

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke has told the BBC recent events have made him "ashamed" to be a Labour MP.

Mr Clarke said he had "worked half my life to get Labour into a position where it could be a good government and I do see that fading away".

It comes as ex-home secretary David Blunkett warned of a "catastrophic" collapse in trust and urged Mr Brown to regain the political initiative.

Downing Street denied Mr Brown had been damaged by this week's events.

Mr Clarke has been a persistent critic of Mr Brown and was one of a handful of Labour MPs not to back him for the party leadership.

But his latest intervention comes amid mounting criticism of the prime minister's performance on issues such as Gurkha settlement rights and MPs' expenses and opposition claims his authority has been fatally undermined.

'Appalling'

In an interview with the BBC in Norwich, Mr Clarke said Labour's performance had to "improve dramatically".

He urged the prime minister to ensure MPs expenses were sorted out on an "all party basis rather than a party advantage basis" and to ensure "the kinds of political conduct symbolised by (ex-Downing Street aide) Damian McBride at the core of government are driven out".

Once you poke through the froth on expenses we achieved more in one day on the issue than in the last 20 or 30 years years
Downing Street

Asked how he felt, as one of the founding figures of New Labour, to see the party apparently falling apart, he said: "It's absolutely terrible.

"There have been things that have been done recently which have made me feel ashamed to be a Labour Member of Parliament, which was something I never ever wanted to be in.

"I worked, as you say, over my whole political life to get Labour into a position where it could be a good government and I do see that fading away ... And it feels absolutely appalling.

"So what do you do? You have to refocus on what the steps we have to take to improve our performance and improve our activity -- and that has to be the number one thing".

Asked if a change of leadership was the answer, the Norwich South MP said: "I don't think so really.

"I very much expect Gordon still to be leading us into the next general election.

"Obviously Gordon will think about his own position as he rightly should, but I don't think there's a lot of movement around whether Gordon should be moved but there's a lot around saying Gordon has to improve his performance."

'Balloon might go up'

Former minister Frank Field, another persistent backbench critic of Mr Brown, has said Labour has "one last chance" to consider replacing him as leader, arguing that the "balloon might go up" when the results of European and local election results on 4 June were in.

"I would then hope we had a new leader and, in the meantime, we get on with showing we can perform well as a government with our programme actually laying the basis for our manifesto commitments," he told Public Servant magazine.

Mr Field said the Damian McBride e-mail scandal had left Labour MPs "staring into the abyss" and insisted there would be time to install a new leader ahead of a possible general election in 2010.

In a speech on Friday, Mr Clarke's predecessor as home secretary, David Blunkett, will say the political instincts which have sustained Labour in power for 12 years are in danger of being lost as it stumbles from one crisis to the next.

He will say: "The old battles are over and the need for visionary action is self-evident. So talk of going back to the past, of wiping out the last two decades, is dangerous".

He told the Today programme the party needed to show more "collective leadership and responsibility" and focus on issues which showed it was in touch with people's concerns.

Mr Blunkett said Mr Brown had done an "extraordinary job" over the global recession and denied he had been personally weakened by his climb-down over the main plank of his proposed changes to MP's expenses - reform of second home allowances.

He added: "Actually over the last two years I've been a better ally than some of the self-proclaimed allies that put Gordon as prime minister. And I'll continue doing so, because we are in this together."

Setbacks

Mr Blunkett's comments come the day after the government won a series of votes on MPs' expenses reforms, having agreed to delay a decision on controversial second homes allowances.

The government dropped a proposal for a flat-rate daily expense for attending Parliament amid opposition from the Conservatives, Lib Dems and some Labour MPs, less than a week after Mr Brown had announced the plan on the internet.

On Wednesday, the government suffered a shock Commons defeat on its policy of restricting the right of many former Gurkhas to settle in the UK.

The prime minister's official spokesman dismissed claims Mr Brown had stopped listening to colleagues and has been damaged by this week's events.

He said Mr Brown was continuing to focus on the important issues facing the country like swine flu, policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and dealing with the economic slowdown.

He added: "Once you poke through the froth on expenses we achieved more in one day on the issue than in the last 20 or 30 years years."



SEE ALSO
MPs back allowances reform plans
30 Apr 09 |  Politics
PM losing authority, says Cameron
30 Apr 09 |  Politics
Defeat spells trouble for Brown
29 Apr 09 |  Politics
Brown defeated over Gurkha rules
29 Apr 09 |  Politics

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