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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Profile: Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke
Mr Clarke has a reputation for being a tough-talking political "bruiser"
Although Charles Clarke has been an MP only since 1997, he has been close to the heart of power in the Labour Party since the 1980s.

The son of a senior civil servant, he was privately educated at Highgate School in north London before going on to Cambridge University, where he studied maths and economics.

He was Neil Kinnock's chief-of-staff from 1983 to 1992 and had a hand in the former party leader's conference speech attacking the Militant wing's administration of Liverpool.

He had previously served as president of the National Union of Students, a well-trodden path to the "grown-up" world of Labour politics at Westminster.

Later, as Labour's party chairman, he proved his loyalty to New Labour by ruffling feathers within party and union ranks.

And most recently, Mr Clarke - who is 56 this month - hit the headlines with damning criticism following Tony Blair's announcement that he would quit as Labour leader within a year.

'Control freak'

He branded Chancellor Gordon Brown - the favourite to succeed Mr Blair - a "control freak" who could not work well with other people.

He also accused Mr Brown of "absolutely stupid" behaviour when he was pictured smiling broadly during the furore over Mr Blair's leadership.

Charles Clarke (centre) at Westminster in 1975
He was president of the National Union of Students in the 1970s
Mr Brown brushed off the criticism by saying he had been reacting to a joke about his newborn son when the photograph was taken.

Mr Clarke was sacked from his job as home secretary in May following the media storm over the release of more than 1,000 foreign prisoners who were not considered for deportation.

He was said to have been offered a series of high-profile jobs.

However, he refused them all because he could not stay at the Home Office and was said to have been "furious" at being dismissed.

He criticised the way he was treated and has subsequently attacked the tactics of his successor, John Reid.

'Bruiser'

Mr Clarke does have a reputation as a tough-talking political "bruiser", which was not diminished by his time as education secretary, between 2002 and 2004.

He pushed the Higher Education Bill - with its controversial plans for variable tuition fees - through the Commons in the face of widespread Labour backbench opposition.

He also pointedly snubbed the biggest teachers' union, the NUT, by declaring in 2003 that no education ministers would attend its annual conference.

Charles Clarke
Mr Clarke has represented Norwich South in the Commons since 1997
Delegates had "seriously damaged" the image of the teaching profession, he said, and he again turned down an invitation to speak at the union's conference the following year.

Mr Clarke - who is married with two sons - was tipped for office from the moment he was elected as MP for Norwich South in 1997, despite a few off-message wobbles.

He made clear his opposition to cuts in lone-parent benefits - although he supported it in the voting lobbies - and he called for a fully-elected second chamber.

After a year at the education department, he became a minister of state at the Home Office before the 2001 general election.

But he only gained great public prominence when he was moved to the newly-created post of Labour chairman, with his salary paid from party funds.

This caused great controversy, since constitutionally Labour already had its own elected party chairman.

'Media myths'

In the role he often served as a general media trouble-shooter for the party.

But he has also exhibited a tendency for straight-talking which, at times, has proved too blunt for some.

He accused Prince Charles of being "old-fashioned and out of time" for views he expressed on the education system.

Mr Clarke's appointment as home secretary in 2004 put him in charge of security, the government's top priority.

He immediately indicated he would carry on with the policies of his predecessor, David Blunkett, on national ID cards, along with Mr Blunkett's uncompromising stance on asylum and immigration.

It was a busy period on both fronts for Mr Clarke.

From the 7 July bombings in London last year emerged the Terrorism Bill, which became law in June.

This was despite sustained opposition from some quarters including the House of Lords, rebel Labour MPs, opposition parties and civil liberties campaigners.

Mr Clarke has faced a similar fight with the House of Lords and others over the introduction of ID cards.

Critics say the system will interfere with civil liberties, is too expensive and will do little to tackle problems such as terrorism.

Mr Clarke has also criticised the British media, accusing them of perpetuating "myths" that his law and order agenda was an attack on human rights and civil liberties.


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