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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Blair likened to TV's David Brent
David Brent
Like Brent, Tony Blair is now "utterly redundant", says Mr Cameron
Tony Blair is the "David Brent of Downing Street", says David Cameron.

The Tory leader said Mr Blair was "utterly redundant" and "just hanging around the office" like the lead character in the BBC comedy The Office.

Mr Blair ignored the taunt, at prime minister's questions, and challenged Mr Cameron to debate his own policies.

He noted that the Tory leader's plan for a Bill of Rights had been called "xenophobic and legal nonsense" by his democracy adviser Ken Clarke.

The exchanges came after Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett urged Mr Blair and Gordon Brown to ensure a smooth transition of power.

She made the appeal in the wake of Charles Clarke's claim that Mr Blair has lost his sense of direction.

In an interview with the Times, she says Mr Clarke's attack on Mr Blair may have been prompted by his "dismay" at losing his job as home secretary.

But she admits there are some people in the party who are unhappy about things.

'Geoffrey Howe' moment?

Pressed to say whether she believes Mr Blair and Mr Brown could carry out the smooth transition the Labour party wanted following the local elections, Mrs Beckett replies: "I think they can do that.

"I certainly hope they will do that."

I do not think there is any indication that he has lost a sense of purpose and direction
Margaret Beckett on Tony Blair

But she says it is up to the prime minister and the chancellor to decide if the autumn party conference is the time to signal that they are prepared to hand over power.

"What people want is for there to be a process - which there can easily be - which is supportive of the party and advantageous to the party and not the other way round," she says.

On Tuesday, Mr Blair rejected claims he had suffered his "Geoffrey Howe moment" with criticism from Mr Clarke that could trigger his departure from Downing Street.

He also dismissed the suggestion that he had lost direction, adding that it was time for the government to "calm down, hold our nerve and get on with governing".

"You will always have a group of people who stand up and say you have betrayed everything we ever stood for," he said.

'Refocus' call

In a series of media interviews, Mr Clarke, previously a strong Blair ally, voiced his anger and frustration at being sacked.

He said Mr Blair had lost his sense of purpose and direction - and he cast doubt over whether the prime minister could recover his authority.

Mrs Beckett says she does not agree with Mr Clarke's comments about Mr Blair.

"I do not think there is any indication that he has lost a sense of purpose and direction," she says.

"Indeed, from my present vantage point, the direction he gave me about wanting me to use the diplomatic channels to pursue issues like climate change was absolutely clear and is part of a much bigger picture."

Mrs Beckett says she has "great respect and affection" for Mr Clarke.

"But I think what happens with former ministers is that they feel a natural sense of dismay, particularly in Charles' case, because he made plain that he felt he should have been allowed to remain," she says.




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