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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 April 2006, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Darling predicts 'difficult' week
Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling says Tony Blair is aware of the country's sentiments
The government's difficulties will continue next week as it faces "bad" council election results, Cabinet minister Alistair Darling has said.

Labour has faced severe criticism in the last week over the NHS, the foreign prisoner deportation scandal and John Prescott's affair.

Mr Darling admitted that his party's already poor local election prospects had diminished further.

He said the priority was to fix the problems.

Last week was a bad week for the government; next week will be difficult too because we have got difficult elections coming up
Alistair Darling

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has faced calls for his resignation over accusations that he failed to effectively deal with the problem of foreign prisoners not being considered for deportation on their release from UK prisons.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt was heckled when she gave a speech at the Royal College of Nursing conference.

Adding to the government's travails is the continuing embarrassment caused by Mr Prescott's affair, which has been chronicled in detail by the Sunday newspapers.

Mr Darling told BBC1's Sunday AM: "Last week was a bad week for the government; next week will be difficult too because we have got difficult elections coming up.

"For me the important thing is to concentrate on what we need to do to sort these things out."

He added that any election would be a test on the government.

Clarke's position

Mr Darling went on: "They were going to be bad before any of this started and I do not think this is the ideal set up for the week before polls.

"The public don't like this sort of stuff - and understandably they don't like it - but they want to make sure that when a government is hit like this it recovers, it gets back into its stride."

Mr Darling said that he hoped Mr Clarke would remain in post and said most people wanted these problems resolved.

He said: "They are angry it has happened but they want it sorted out.

"That is in no way to minimise the hurt and the anger felt by people who have suffered as a result but we need to sort these problems out."

Power handover

Looking further ahead, Mr Darling, seen as a close ally of Mr Brown, said most Labour MPs wanted an "orderly transfer" of leadership from Tony Blair to the chancellor.

He said: "I think both he and Gordon will need to, at some stage, reach an agreement as to how these things are arranged."

The prime minister announced two years ago that he would not contest a fourth general election, saying he intended to serve a full term before standing down.

But amid a series of recent difficulties, on schools and hospital reforms and cash for loans, there have been growing calls for Mr Blair to hand over the reins of power earlier rather than later - or at least specify when he intends to stand down.

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