Saturday, January 27, 2007

John Reid and the Politics of Humility


Actually, John Reid knows nothing about the politics of humility which is why he is having such a chronic time now. Being Home Secretary has never been an easy job - Kenneth Clarke described it as the graveyard of political careers (not very accurately, since his own went on to flourish further until he fell at the hurdle of the party leadership) - but plenty of Home Secretaries have been given more forbearance than 'Dr.' Reid. One thinks of the Tory gents, William Whitelaw and Douglas Hurd, who repeatedly fell foul of their own party's hang 'em high tendency, but who managed to preserve their dignity - and that of their office - in the process. Even Jack Straw, more recently, is looking distinctly more impressive alongside his successors than he has any right to.


It is the arrogant, bullying Home Sec. who comes a cropper, and Reid is arguably the most arrogant and bullying of them all. After all, you can't come in to the office, describe it as 'not fit for purpose', claim that it was all your predecessors' faults that made it so, and announce that you will be working flat out to change it, without some fallout. There's more of course. Reid attacked judges for lenient sentencing not long ago. The BBC's Nick Robinson has blogged a fascinating theory that the recent judicial comments about sentences that have seen bail granted for people who might have expected prison sentences, are a sweet revenge for the judges. Don't criticise us for lenient sentences, then send us a smug little memorandum telling us not to put people in jails, goes the subliminal message.


The Home Office is a mess and seems inadequate, but whether it is more so now than ever should be considered with a hefty pinch of salt. That there is a media feeding frenzy about its failings is rooted as much in the Westminster Village's rivalries as it is in the actual performance of the Home Office. There is undoubtedly an in depth, and probably not riveting, story to be unearthed about the failings of government here, and about the ineptitude of big government that tries to give itself too much to do. There is still a great deal to learn about the role and ethos of the civil service - is it now chronically inefficient, or has it been overstretched by a government that loves to overstretch its public servants?


John Reid doesn't have many friends, but at least there was some comfort for him today when the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, endorsed his defence of the now notorious sentencing memorandum, saying that it was indeed intended as a reminder and not a new instruction. Nonetheless, if I were Reid, I wouldn't be racing to read the Sunday papers tomorrow. Perhaps a visit to his local church instead - to hear a sermon weighing in against the adoption policy!!

3 comments:

C H Daly said...

It seems to me after researching the last few decades of the Home Office that John Reid is the first person to actually acknowledge many key faults in it and start doing something about it. Practically all of the current issues that the Home Office is being so heavily slated for were around during Thatcher years, it's just that then, there was no Home Secretary with the stones enough to come forward and admit that things could not continue.

GM said...

Acknowledging all these faults is no virtue if you then prove unable to do anything about them. Especially not when your 'acknowledgement' was so arrogantly stated - just asking for trouble!

Monita said...

Great work.