Peter Hoskin

Clarke lashes out at Balls

Clarke lashes out at Balls
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The Labour infighting is becoming bloodier by the day. Remember Ed Balls' call for party unity last week? Well – in a letter to today's Times – Charles Clarke responds with an astonishing personal attack on Balls. Here's Clarke's invective in full:

“Sir, Ed Balls’s extraordinary interview with you (April 18) is most revealing and provokes a response.

His injunctions about the “indulgent nonsense” of “private briefings against the Labour leader” certainly come from one who is well acquainted with this kind of activity. Such things do discredit politics and take us back to the days of faction and party-within-a-party that were so damaging in the 1980s. As he says, we’ve seen it over this parliamentary recess, as I know to my cost from the totally false briefing (to which he refers) that I am considering running as a “stalking horse” against Gordon Brown. I hope that he’ll do what he can to stamp it out.

His references to “disappointment” resonate. It’s certainly true that many Labour MPs, including myself, are disappointed by policy decisions such as the abolition of the 10p tax rate, the over-bureaucratic and insensitive nature of the post office closure programme, and the problems arising from lack of preparation for a Northern Rock-style economic challenge. These all stem from Treasury positions with which he is very familiar. It’s also true that many, including myself, are disappointed with many aspects of his education policies, of which the most serious is the absence of a coherent and focused reform strategy for the 14-19 curriculum, along the lines of Mike Tomlinson’s proposals.

As far as his remarks about “falling for false prophets” are concerned, I would advise him to examine himself and his own role. He should stop attacking others anonymously or in code and look to his own performance and record.

Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP”

So ferocious an attack on Brown's right-hand man can only be seen as an assault on the Prime Minister by extension. Brown's got to worry that Clarke's views represent those of the Labour backbenches en masse. If that's the case, then – as Jackie Ashley points out in today's Guardian – that 10p tax rebellion could get a whole lot messier.