Yet again Jacqui Smith’s arrogance blossoms into full-blown incompetence. When delivering her Commons statement to explain her involvement (or curious non-involvement) in the Damian Green affair, she insisted that even if she had known in advance that Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green was to be arrested she still wouldn’t have intervened:
In a statement to MPs, Ms Smith again insisted that she had no prior knowledge that Damian Green, Shadow Immigration Minister, was to be arrested last Thursday in connection with an inquiry into repeated leaks from the Home Office.
She said that she backed the right of MPs to do their job and hold the Government to account but the “systematic leaking of Government information” raised issues that struck at the heart of Britain’s “system of governance” and “drove a coach and horses” through Civil Service impartiality.
But in an angry reply that goaded the Labour benches into cries of “shame”, her Tory shadow, Dominic Grieve, accused Ms Smith of “wilful ignorance” and of “washing her hands” of the responsibilities of her office.
I hate to say it though but he couldn’t be more right. As a friend of mine recently wrote, you don’t get a police state by tabling legislation asking for one. It comes through vain and incompetent small decisions such as these. As Grieve continued to say of the issues:
“They involve basic ministerial oversight over counter-terrorism police operations against a Member of this House. Heavy-handed and incompetent at best, and at worst an unwarranted assault on our democracy,” he said.
Bleating on about the primacy of ‘operational independence’, when the police have engaged in an unlawful search of parliament, having arrested a member of the opposition front bench on counter-terrorism charges when he was at the most guilty of an internal disciplinary matter, is a complete abjugation of her greater duties of actually controlling the police, of safeguarding civil liberties, and not criminalising every action she just doesn’t like. If she had known of the investigation in advance (and considering she knew Christopher Galley was being investigated I can’t figure out how she didn’t know Damian Green was also) she should have intervened in some fashion. As Dominic Grieve demanded:
“Does the Home Secretary regret her wilful ignorance in this whole affair and the decision to wash her hands of the basic responsibilities that come with her office? Who is in charge of the police, if she is not?” But Miss Smith remained impenitent even when chided by her predecessor, John Reid, who said he would certainly have wanted to know if his “opposite number” was about to be arrested.
For Miss Smith, ignorance is bliss. For the rest of us, her desire not to know what the police are doing looks more like a disingenuous dereliction of her duty.
That she doesn’t know why she should, and has instead spun this as a national security issue, makes her unfit for office. Noone has said the police were trying to behave in a politically partisan fashion – that isn’t the issue. This is instead a case study of the consequences of this government’s criminalisation of everyone, of a presumption of distrust of the trustworthy, of choosing to drive a wedge into normal relationships in civil society. The police action is wrong in part because it’s simply unnecessary, but Green has also been on the receiving end of heavy-handed, unnecessary treatment by a force which the Home Secretary is unwilling to rein in (in order to keep herself appearing ‘strong’ on law and order), and whose excesses she encourages at every turn. Even when Jacqui Smith was called in the Commons on misrepresenting the charge on which Green was arrested she showed complete disinterest in basic fairness:
Throughout Damian Green sat on the front bench, his face drawn. When Ms Smith read out what he had been arrested for – suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office – he shook his head. “I have a copy of my arrest warrant here,” he said, waving it, “and the phrase ‘counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office’ does not occur.” He asked her to withdraw the words. Ms Smith, who lacks personal generosity, refused. “I would certainly be prepared to take that up with the police,” she said, as placid as a cow chewing its cud while, all around the pasture, the heifers rioted.
If anyone should go in this affair it’s Jacqui Smith.