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Last Updated: Friday, 28 April 2006, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Clarke fights for his political life
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Charles Clarke
Mr Clarke has Tony Blair's backing, No 10 says

There appeared a grim inevitability about the revelation that some of the foreign criminals released by the home office had re-offended.

And for Charles Clarke, the fact that those offences included violence and drugs is particularly damaging.

Worse, it is widely expected that, re-offending rates being what they are, there will be more cases to follow.

The prime minister is still standing by his minister and there is a strong current of support amongst senior Labour figures for the home secretary to be left in post to sort out the mess.

They argue that changing the man at the top will have little to no effect on the task of dealing with the problem.

The demands for Mr Clarke to quit or be sacked have intensified and he faces a holiday weekend which will only see those calls being echoed time and again
Nick Assinder

Mr Clarke has done his best to show he is doing exactly that, and many are ready to accept the suggestion that this whole crisis is the result of a major failure deep within the home office itself rather than as a result of policies or actions taken by Mr Clarke.

But none of that is likely to satisfy his critics, led by the Tory and Liberal Democrat parties but including a large number on his own benches, who believe he is culpable for having acted far too late and despite several warnings.

They believe the latest announcement has made matters far worse, confirming their fears that the failure to deport the foreign offenders has placed the public at risk.

As a result the demands for Mr Clarke to quit or be sacked have intensified and he faces a holiday weekend which will only see those calls being echoed time and again.

Local elections

They will almost certainly reach a crescendo when MPs return to the Commons on Tuesday when, assuming no other major disasters, Mr Clarke may be expected to make a statement on the continuing inquiries into the affair.

All this would be enough to put the home secretary's job under serious threat.

But the fact that Labour is facing what most believe will be a hugely difficult set of local elections on 4 May has added another dimension.

Law and order, specifically anti-social behaviour and protection of the public, has been placed at the centre of the campaign by Tony Blair himself.

John Prescott
John Prescott's affair with his secretary has also rocked Labour

It is an area that had previously always been strong, traditional Tory territory, but ground had been lost to Labour over the past few years.

Now it is firmly back in the Conservatives hands and they will make the most of it in the remaining few days of the campaign.

Labour is already facing a hugely difficult campaign in the wake of the revelations about John Prescott's affair with his secretary and the bruising reception handed to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt by nurses.

The party is now bracing itself for a serious drubbing - with many already claiming it could set the seal on the prime minister's fate - made worse by the spate of troubles which have hammered the government over the past few days.

Cabinet re-shuffle

The prime minister may try to brush aside these as "the way it is" in politics nowadays. But that will prove an increasingly difficult line to sustain, particularly in the face of a local election disaster.

It is expected he will attempt to plough through the expected setback by staging his long-awaited cabinet re-shuffle, possibly the day after the local polls.

So it is highly likely that, if things stand as they are, Mr Clarke will remain in his post at least until then and possibly beyond.

But with these different strands - all of which are intertwined with the prime minister's own future - the government and Labour party are, to a huge extent, now in the hands of "events".

How the deportation story emerged
26 Apr 06 |  UK Politics


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