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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December 2004, 12:14 GMT
Clarke's election challenge
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

David Blunkett was going to be the face of Labour's next general election campaign.

Charles Clarke
Clarke may bring different tone
His proposals on law and order, immigration and asylum, terrorism and security were to be the central planks of that campaign.

And his no-nonsense, hard-line approach would have given the campaign a particular character.

Some would have loved it and others hated it. But it now falls to Charles Clarke to provide that focus for the poll, still expected next May.

The man Mr Blunkett claimed, in the now infamous biography, had "gone soft" has stepped into the shoes of the man widely regarded as one of the most authoritarian home secretaries of recent times.

And within minutes of Mr Clarke planting himself in the Home Office, he was landed with the first major test of his approach when the Law Lords ruled against the detention of foreign terror suspects without trial.

How he reacts to that ruling will give the first indication of how, or if, his rule will differ from his predecessor's.

And that is the question now being asked in Westminster - to what extent will Labour's election planning and campaign be different?

Matter of debate

First off, it has to be stressed that the chances of polices being abandoned is next to nil.

These are not simply the personal property of the minister - their ownership is shared, at least, with the prime minister. So ID card proposals will go ahead.

David Blunkett
Blunkett would have set election direction
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has already urged Mr Clarke to think again, declaring: "Wouldn't this be a good opportunity for a new Home Secretary, a new broom, to sweep clean in this respect and why do we need this legislation in the first place?"

Little chance of that, although the new home secretary has stated that "the question of how you put it into effect and what you do is a matter of debate".

Similarly, moves to combat anti-social behaviour will not be watered down.

And, crucially, the "war on terror" will not be abandoned or even slackened.


But what may well change is the tone, the nature of the campaign around these tough policies.

For example, Mr Blunkett often appeared scathing about "liberals", particularly in the media, once branding them "the liberati".

He also famously once spoke about "airy-fairy civil liberties".

Armed police in Westminster
Security at centre of campaign
Mr Clarke will not adopt that sort of approach. He told Radio 4 on Thursday: "I certainly would not use the phrase 'airy-fairy civil liberties'. I don't think civil liberties are airy-fairy."

It also remains to be seen whether Mr Clarke will be as hard on the nation's top judges as Mr Blunkett had been.

He has already talked about the increase in security measures - such as CCTV cameras - almost as a necessary evil that he would rather we could live without.

Many, however, will be looking at the issue of national security, particularly in the wake of the Queen's speech which was riddled with talk about the threat to the country.

That led to claims the government and Mr Blunkett in particular had taken a leaf from George Bush's election handbook and planned to whip up a climate of fear for electoral advantage.

Critics feared the election campaign would be dominated by talk of the threat from international terrorism and the warnings that a major attack on the UK was inevitable.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Clarke follows such an agenda.

But many in Westminster are predicting that the tone of the election campaign may be significantly different without Mr Blunkett out on the stump.

Charles Clarke talks to the BBC's Today programme

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