Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Home Secretary's Inadequacy

Jacqui Smith has been underwhelming as Home Secretary ever since her appointment to the emasculated post (not that the inheritor of the other half of the former Home Office's remit, Jack Straw, has done much more to increase his visibility). Her inadequacy is once again to the fore in the Case of the Arrested MP. The arrest of Damian Green represents a serious misjudgment on the part of the police, and given its sensitivity it is difficult to believe the Home Secretary had no inkling of what was going to happen. Her embarrassing performance on the Marr show this morning has given plenty of ammunition to her opponents, as she failed to deflect the accusation of prior knowledge. If she did approve the arrest, it has in any case been a political own goal I nmore ways than one - before he hit the headlines from his temporary detention, Green was toiling away on the immigration issue to little, if any, public fanfare. He may have been irritated by his arrest, but he has certainly benefited from the oxygen of publicity.

Also facing questions, and also someone under regular attack for the way he performs his duties, is Commons Speaker Michael Martin. Even Harriet Harman, on Sky this morning, was defending the right of MPs to pursue their jobs unmolested and expressing concern about the violation of Commons privilege. For Michael Martin, whose predecessors stood up to the power of the (then) monarchical government in the face of prison and execution, this is a sorry episode indeed. Rarely has the office of the Speaker been brought so low as to supinely allow police to raid an MPs offices in pursuit of low level leaks. From the heroic statement to armed royal guards that "I have neither eyes to see nor ears to hear except as this House directs", to "Yes, absolutely, go ahead and raid the office. Here's the key," is a fall indeed.

As for leaks, David Hencke in the Guardian puts it into context when he writes that they are part of the warp and weft of keeping a government to account. Governments will always try and hide what they can in the furtherance of their desire not to face legitimate criticism. Oppositions, and a free media, will always try and unearth such hidden gems to shed light on things the public should probably know. There was no greater recipient of leaks - and far more damaging than the ones Damian Green is accused of using - than Winston Churchill in the 1930s. Even the current guardian of public morality in government, Gordon Brown, was a persistent user of leaks to pursue his campaign against the then Tory government.

Governments in power for too long come to believe in their own omniscience, and to exude the signs of arrogance and incompetence that comes from giving mediocrities power which they ill suited to wield. It happened under the Major government, and the worry for Brown should be that his government is showing the same signs of political fatigue. Ken Clarke, in a typically vigorous intervention today, likened the situation to "President Nixon's America". Brown has more personal similarities to the disgraced former president than he might care to reflect on; in his case, however, he will be able to wait for the public to eject him than have to resign beforehand.

NB An interesting alternative view of this incident is held by Richard North on his blog, EU Referendum here. He essentially argues the case that Damian Green was certainly guilty of an offence, as was the civil servant who did the leaking, and the contrary hysteria completely misses the point.

3 comments:

Chris Benjamin said...

They should of called the army or at least tried to physically stop the police.

consultant said...

Are there any female politicians you do approve of?

Comrade MAjor said...

If the guy is guilty, then it is only fair. It is only the absence of a warrant that upsets me. Go ahead police. They should be sovereign, not some poncy fat bastards in Westminster.