Clarke more in anger than in sorrow

What do we make of Charles Clarke’s clearly premeditated and carefully planned attack on Tony Blair and John Reid, home secretary?

It is hard to fathom his motives. While Tuesday’s Radio 4 On the Ropes interview seemed more measured than his intemperate performance on BBC2’s Newsnight the night before, I fear the former home secretary has simply come across as bitter and vindictive rather than someone who feels he must speak out to save the party he still loves.

Consider, too, the timing of his outburst. I can only assume that the lead time for the On the Ropes interview was such that it could not be shifted after England just about beat Ecuador on Sunday. With the nation’s thoughts elsewhere, his anger lost impact.

The great Geoffrey Howe’s savaging of Margaret Thatcher – which properly took place in the House of Commons and not a TV studio – worked not only because of his more statesmanlike performance, but also because it was perfectly timed.

The truth is that it is rare for someone who has been sacked to sound anything other than bitter, while attempting to engage in a spat with one’s successor looks weak. The wisest course, nearly always, is to maintain a dignified silence.

Red-socked runner

Even so, Tuesday was not the best day, perhaps, for Blair to have committed himself to donning one red sock and running a mile for Sport Relief. With Clarke, his former cheerleader, telling the world that Blair had lost his sense of purpose and direction, there was a chance that today’s papers would be full of pictures of a sweating prime minister struggling round the track at the Lea Valley circuit in London’s East End, above captions ranging from “Has he run out of puff?” to “Will he find the finishing line?”

As it turned out Blair, a keen exerciser even since his heart condition surfaced, completed the course, accompanied by Olympians Lord Coe, Sir Steve Redgrave and Fatima Whitbread.

So no need – on this occasion at least – for Gordon Brown, chancellor, who has been impatiently warming up trackside for nearly a decade, to pick up the baton.


Another take on the similarities between members of the cabinet and of the England squad: match the wives and girlfriends. Victoria Beckham is, of course, Cherie Blair. Married to the team captain, originally successful in her own right, but now a parody of herself and something of a laughing stock. And Nancy Dell’Olio is Pauline Prescott – the lovely hair, the glamorous outfits, need I go on?

I am charmed to find that many of the players have not only taken their wives and girlfriends, but also their mothers, cousins and random other female companions so that the “wag” contingent numbers about 100. Are there any unaccompanied members of the squad, I wonder? If so, are they allowed to appoint an official consort?

Nor are there any gay players. If there were a few we would also

have a contingent of Cpabs – civil partners and boyfriends, pronounced kebabs.


I learn that Andy Murray – the Scottish hopeful at Wimbledon, or rather the British one, since tennis doesn’t distinguish between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom – is to play wearing wristbands decorated with the blue and white of the Scottish saltire.

After all the fuss about St George’s crosses being unwelcome in Scotland, let us hope that Murray’s attire is not taken as provocative. The wristbands, and all Murray’s kit, are supplied by Fred Perry, the sportswear company with whom Murray has a mutually beneficial relationship.

The company takes its name from the last British man to win Wimbledon – 70 years ago. Perry, an Englishman according to the Wimbledon website, beat Gottfried von Cramm to win his third championship in a row, having used to advantage a tip from the masseur that his German opponent had been treated for a groin strain.

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