Promotions depend, to some extent, on how a minister plays in the media. But the prime minister also gets confidential reports on how ministers are doing in their departments and their position within the Labour party. A lot of what, for example, party chairman Charles Clarke does is invisible to the Westminster watchers. They see him on Newsnight but not in the regions, talking to constituency chiefs and union bosses, taking the temperature, plotting the course.
Clarke’s stock has lately been on the up – according to the columnists. He has even been tipped as a successor to Gordon Brown. One report linked him with a new ‘radical’ ginger group provisionally labelled The Hub, a leading light of which is Tony Robinson, a serious Labour figure whose chances will always been hampered by his association with Baldrick, the character he so memorably played in Blackadder.
Clarke is a coming man, so much is obvious. But two things will have to happen if he really is to become a contender for the job at Number 11. One is that Clarke himself, an ultra-loyalist first to Kinnock and now to Blair, will have to acquire an ideological and policy personality of his own – he will surely need to run a department before he can be considered for the Treasury.
The other is that Gordon Brown, a formidable political strategist, will lose the plot. He is in secure command of the public finances and, despite the commentators, nicely placed to command the timing and content of the government’s decision on joining the euro. Like Clarke – but unlike Blair – he has deep roots in the Labour party and a sophisticated feel for its rhythms and dynamic.
He knows, as does Clarke, that no one has mapped let alone settled the post-Blair landscape yet.
- l David Walker writes for The Guardian