Clarke admits cabinet reshuffle ‘not the best’

Charles Clarke has criticised the cabinet reshuffle in which he was sacked as home secretary, saying it had failed to give the sense of renewal the government needed.

Mr Clarke, who has now returned to the backbenches, said the changes made earlier this month were “not the best of reshuffles – we never do have the best of reshuffles”.

Tony Blair carried out the reshuffle the day after Labour lost 300 council seats in the local elections, and after a torrid few weeks of headlines about foreign prisoners, the NHS and the affair of his deputy prime minister, John Prescott.

“I thought the point was to give a clear sense of redirection for the government. But in the end it hasn’t worked out like that according to the commentators,” Mr Clarke told the Eastern Daily Press.

The MP for Norwich South said he understood why analysts had reached that judgment, adding: “[The reshuffle] needed to be clear. It was not as clear as it needed to be.”

Tony Blair made 14 major changes in his reshuffle including Mr Clarke’s dismissal, which was widely expected given the row at the Home Office about foreign prisoners released from jail without being considered for deportation.

A more surprising move was the demotion of Jack Straw from foreign secretary to leader of the House of Commons. Earlier this week he admitted he had been surprised at the change, which he expected not to happen for another year.

In an interview with a national newspaper, he also appeared to confirm Mr Clarke’s suggestion that the reshuffle was not entirely planned, saying Mr Blair had had to make some “enforced changes”.

It is unusual for Mr Clarke, a loyal ally of the prime minister, to criticise the government in public – despite being sacked, he promised in his leaving statement to be a “strong and active supporter of this government and the leadership of Tony Blair”.

He told the Eastern Daily Press that he expected Mr Blair to remain in his post until 2008, but insisted he would be happy to return to a cabinet post under Gordon Brown if asked.

Mr Clarke said that contrary to reports, he had “always had a good relationship” with the chancellor. He also suggested there was unlikely to be a “serious challenge” to Mr Brown as successor to the prime minister.