Clarke: Labour must assess its failures

Charles Clarke today warned that Labour must confront its failures – but in setting out a blueprint he insisted he was not making a bid for the leadership.

The former home secretary used a speech in London this morning to outline how Labour could bridge the “fault lines” that had grown between the party and its supporters, with clear policies on security, the environment, social justice and constitutional reform.

Mr Clarke stressed that despite the timing of his comments – which come as Labour is embroiled in a row about Tony Blair’s future as prime minister – they were not intended to signal his entry into any leadership race.

“My intention is to do what I can to encourage the debate about the future of my party and this country which I think is so important,” he said.

But he wasted no time in condemning several policies put by Gordon Brown and his supporters, including the chancellor’s announcement earlier this year that Trident, the UK’s nuclear deterrent, should be replaced.

“I have as yet seen no coherent case for deciding how to replace Trident,” the former home secretary, who was sacked by Mr Blair in May, told the Policy Review.

He also rejected concerns expressed by Mr Brown’s main ally, Ed Balls, that debating future strategy was “navel-gazing” and unnecessary. He insisted that unless Labour dealt with real concerns about its policies, the Conservatives would gain the upper hand.

“While there is, I agree, no need to debate the essential and fundamental values of our party, there is every need both to assess our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, in government,” Mr Clarke said.

“And then to achieve clarity about both the course we should follow in the coming years and the best way to regain the confident support of the people of this country for that course.”

Last week, the former minister – who has always been a strong ally of Mr Blair, but earlier this year said he would back Mr Brown as the next Labour leader – used an article in The Spectator to set out where he thought the party was going wrong.

Today he attempted to provide a solution to these, arguing that, among other proposals, the government must be bolder with its reforms but ensure change is carried out with the maximum possible consultation with staff.

He also warned that while the government has made significant progress in tackling climate change, it must put green issues at the “heart of national life”, which meant increasing green taxation and investment in new technologies.

Mr Clarke criticised the recent energy review for failing to answer questions about nuclear power in particular, despite it stating that nuclear should be part of Britain’s energy mix. In this, his views concur with many Labour backbenchers.

He also warned that the government’s failure to finish its reform of the House of Lords had led to the “predominance of patronage” in the upper chamber and the recent loans for peerages row.