Clarke attacks Brown for ‘stupid’ behaviour

Charles Clarke has launched an extraordinary attack on Gordon Brown, saying the way he reacted to the Labour leadership crisis was “absolutely stupid”.

The former home secretary and Blairite told London’s Evening Standard that the chancellor must now “prove his fitness” to become prime minister.

“What he should have done was come out strongly and distance himself from [the Labour rebels]. He could have done that with a click of his fingers. This has been complete madness,” he said.

However, constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman told Labour MPs to “shut up” and stop arguing – she said the chancellor would make a “great prime minister” but in the meantime, the party had to get on with the business of government.

Mr Clarke’s outburst comes as Mr Brown this morning begins to set out his stall for the premiership with a promise to be tough terrorism and a major speech on Britishness in Edinburgh.

In an article for The Sun, the chancellor promises to give police more time to interview terror suspects, strengthen border controls and to introduce ID cards.

He also praises Mr Blair for his “courageous leadership” on this issue, in a clear sign that he hopes to heal the wounds that have opened up in the Labour party over the past week.

But today, Mr Clarke reopens the rift by criticising the chancellor’s smiling departure from Downing Street on Wednesday – a day in which eight junior members of the government had quit in protest at Mr Blair’s continuing leadership.

“A lot of people are very upset and cross about that. It was absolutely stupid: a stupid, stupid thing to do,” he told the newspaper.

He conceded: “Part of the problem is that he lacks confidence. He is nervous. That could all change when the burden of waiting for the job is lifted form his shoulders and I think it probably will.

“But the problem is, nobody really knows. He is not where he should be at the moment. He is talented and brilliant but there are these little incidences like the grin in the car that build up a terrible picture.”

A YouGov poll in The Daily Telegraph today suggests that concerns about Mr Brown’s ability to lead the country go beyond the Westminster bubble.

Twenty per cent of respondents said they thought the chancellor would make a better prime minister than Mr Blair, but 22 per cent thought he would be worse. Just under half thought there would be little change.

When put up against Conservative leader David Cameron, Mr Brown also fares little better than Mr Blair. Just over a third (36 per cent) of voters backed the chancellor, compared to 41 per cent for Mr Cameron.

One of the things Mr Brown has going for him is that he is widely credited for the UK’s economic success over the past nine years. But today’s poll finds just one third of voters think he has done a good job, one third do not trust him and one sixth do not like him.