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Virtual School

John Simkin

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Nicholas Watt and Will Woodward

Thursday December 7, 2006

The Guardian

Tony Blair "really damaged" Britain's relations with its continental partners by holidaying at Silvio Berlusconi's Sardinian villa and cosying up to other leaders on the European right, according to Charles Clarke.

In a strong attack on the prime minister, the pro-European former home secretary also accused Mr Blair of failing to live up to his commitment to place Britain at the heart of Europe.

"Tony has been the most pro-European prime minister, possibly except Ted Heath, since the war," Mr Clarke told the Guardian in an interview about Britain's relations with the EU on the eve of David Cameron's first visit to Brussels as Tory leader. "But actually the achievement has not been good. We are not at the heart of Europe. The great symbolic projects, the euro and the constitution, have not succeeded."

Mr Clarke, one of the most powerful Labour voices in favour of Britain's engagement in Europe, believes the prime minister made a major mistake in forging strong relations with European leaders on the right. He highlighted the Blair family holidays with former Italian prime minister Mr Berlusconi and Mr Blair's decision to take a prominent role at the wedding of the daughter of former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar in 2002.

"The relationships with many of the European countries are really not good at all," Mr Clarke said. "His very personal relationships with Berlusconi and Aznar, going to weddings and holidaying in houses, have really damaged relations with the successors of Berlusconi and Aznar - [Romano] Prodi and [José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero."

I don't have much time for Charles Clarke but it is true that he is very pro-Europe. When he became Secretary of State for Education he asked his civil servants about what European projects UK schools were involved in. They came up with my emails that I had been sending to the Department of Education complaining about the lack of UK funding for the European Virtual School. When he was made aware of my emails he arranged to fund eight teachers to be members of the VS. Unfortunately, by this time, the countries that had been funding this project were reconsidering their position and so within 18 months the VS was no more. Anyway, it is one example of a government minister who did make a difference.

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