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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 April 2006, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Clarke starting to look isolated
Prime Minister's Questions sketch
By Nick Assinder
BBC News political correspondent

If Tony Blair's performance at question time was designed in any way to bolster his beleaguered home secretary, Charles Clarke, he probably gets nominated for the golden turkey rather than the Oscar.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair looked uncomfortable defending home secretary
Not once did the prime minister look easy - no one would expect happy - about his task.

He stumbled over answers, when he gave them, and his mood appeared something between depressed and fed up - even as though he were simply going through the motions.

The authoritative, commanding, dismissive Blair was nowhere to be seen.

Mr Clarke, sitting just a few feet, more like Grand Canyon miles, away from his boss, looked worse.

Until you glanced at the faces of the rest of the frontbench and read their body language.

No help

That green bench may be a tight squeeze, particularly for one so amply proportioned as Mr Clarke.

Charles Clarke looks on as the prime minister speaks

But still his colleagues managed to make it look like he was sitting alone. And he seemed to be feeling it. There was no more help from the MPs sitting behind him.

Many of them are facing local council elections in their constituencies next week, and they know the foreign criminals affair may well hit Labour hard. Law and order has been made an issue in the polls by the party itself.

Uniquely, David Cameron used all six of his allotted questions to pile on the pressure and, ultimately, claim it was time for Clarke to go.

That was followed by a direct demand from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell for the Home Secretary to resign.

It was a message that was about to be followed by shadow home secretary David Davis just moments later.

This is a combined weight, not balanced by any great surge in support from the Labour benches that, on this showing at least, will have further weakened Mr Clarke's grip on his job.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


PRIME MINISTER'S QUESTIONS

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