A question of judgement for the Home Secretary

The decision to allow a police raid on Damian Green showed yet another bad lack of judgement by the Home Secretary.

We all know now that she showed a lack of judgement in what items to buy on expenses, and on how to explain the nature of her second home arrangements to taxpayers. She was tried and found wanting in the Court of Public Opinion favoured by her colleague, Miss Harman.

Today we can at last comment on a far more serious lack of judgement. Any Minister who loves Parliamentary democracy and understands the delicate checks and balances of our constitution would have said “No” to any idea of a raid on an MP’s office for doing his job as an Opposition Spokesman.

Let us assume that this government’s Ministers do not apply the normal rules of decency and commonsense, but just apply the rules of party advantage and realpolitic. Even on this lower standard, Miss Smith made a big mistake.

She should have said to herself that a police invetsigation of Mr Green was a lose/lose for her. She will now find out what criticism she gets in the circumstance where after a lengthy and expensive investigation the authorities decide no offence was committed that they can prosecute.

Just think though what would have happened if she had been successful and Mr Green had faced some charge. The government may have thought it was a trial about whether an Opposition Spokesman had overstepped the mark in what he had made public. Many of the rest of us, and the defence, might have seen it as a show trial of this whole government’s approach to spin, to the leaking and witholding of public information, and to the culture of fear they try to generate in forces which criticise them.

The Defence in the trial could have asked for all sorts of potentially embarrassing papers to be made available. The proceedings could have dragged on close to an election. The Home Secretary is as lucky as she is clumsy today. The trial would have been worse than the wise decision of the CPS that Mr Green has no case to answer.

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37 Comments

  1. oldrightie
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    “Let us assume that this government’s Ministers do not apply the normal rules of decency and commonsense, but just apply the rules of party advantage and realpolitic.”

    You may diplomatically and politely assume, Sir. I am adamant that no asumptiion is required. Smith and her Brown led gang of thugs know everything that goes on. The G20 orders to The Police to effectively imprison thousands of citizens and whack any dissenters, the raid on Damien Green’s Office, McBride’s disgraceful behaviour. Assume that all this was independent of cabinet involvement. Nope, I do not presume to assume!

  2. james barr
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    John,

    Good post. This government is long past its sell by date! The reality is many of its incumbents should never have been exhibited for sale. The expression “unfit for purpose” jumps to mind. Jacqui Smith is quite simply unfit to occupy a post of this level. How I long for a change in the presentation of politics and policy to the electorate. Blair and Brown and their army of taxpayer funded acolytes have done terrible damage to the political process. I hope that the election of a new government in Spring 2009 will see the end of “Spin”. What a miserable little word that is and what a miserable group of people have indulged in its practice. Keep up the good work.

    • Ian Jones
      Posted April 17, 2009 at 2:42 am | Permalink

      There will always be “spin” otherwise journalists will make the story fit what they want. If we didnt have a press owned by rich men wanting to use it for their own power then most of the spin could go too!

      How about the banning of foreign owned papers from being politically biased like the tv is supposed to be (except the BBC) then maybe we can clean things up!!!

  3. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t wasting police time a criminal offence? Or doesn’t the law apply to politicians and civil servants?

  4. Kevin Lohse
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Dear John. Off topic, I know, but the mention of the current Home Secretary brought this up. An employee puts in a claim for expenses and it is vetted by the line manager and HR. A self employed person employs a book-keeper or accountant to ensure that expense claims are legitimate. Why do MP’s fail to get their expense claims vetted before payment?

    I find it highly unlikely that a senior civil servant would ask for a police investigation on such spurious grounds – unless put under extreme pressure by a politician.
    The Home Affairs Committee , Labour-chaired, and the inquiry both as good as said that politically embarrassing information is not the same as sensitive information. Surely the MsSmith’s position is now completely untenable?

    • Susan
      Posted April 16, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Hence the tv interview in Scotland? So weak.

    • SJB
      Posted April 16, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Kevin: “I find it highly unlikely that a senior civil servant would ask for a police investigation on such spurious grounds – unless put under extreme pressure by a politician.”

      Remember that ministers are “here today, gone tomorrow” but the civil service is forever. The Permanent Secretary at the Home Office initiated the police action and authority to search the MP’s office was given by the Serjeant-at-Arms … a former civil servant.

    • ManicBeancounter
      Posted April 16, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      Kevin,

      You say

      “I find it highly unlikely that a senior civil servant would ask for a police investigation on such spurious grounds – unless put under extreme pressure by a politician.”

      I do not find it so unlikely. Long gone as the days when the Civil Service were total impartial mandarins, serving equally any government. Whilst accepting that not all are as partial as Damien McBride, I would contend that many advisors have achieved their current elevated positions more through serving the Labour Party in government, than of serving the State.

      • SJB
        Posted April 17, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        I think you will find that the Civil Service has always put its own interests first (see Bernard Donoughue’s diaries for numerous examples).

  5. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    The whole thing is shambolic. Labour are not fit to govern and Smith is not fit to be Home Sec.

  6. superclaud
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    The incoming Tory Govt will have to take quick and decisive action to halt and reverse the politicisation of the police, particlarly, but not exclusively, in London.
    The departure in quick succession of Blair {I} and Quick is useful but fortuitous, but more fundamental measures will have to be taken if we are,as a Party,to deliver what the public wants, to whit, thief taking not social engineering.
    I hope that, in the affair of Mr Green, the wholly dishonourable role of the Speaker is not allowed to go un-noticed. His behaviour was quite intolerable,and his attempt to hide behind the Sergeant at Arms, beneath contempt.

    • figurewizard
      Posted April 17, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Both Michael Martin and Jill Pay, the hapless Serjeant at Arms have a lot to answer for. It has been reliably reported that Jill Pay was contacted by the police the day befor the police raid on Damien Green’s office and warned that an MP was to be arrested and charged. She then relayed this to Michael Martin ‘in the strictest confidence’. It is clear that Michael Martin then said nothing about stopping the police from entering Parliament the next day, for reasons that are not yet clear to the rest of us but in any event Jill Pay should have known where her duty lay.

      The fact that Michael Martin suggested nothing to prevent this raid is nothing short of deplorable. As for Jill Pay, she has demonstrated quite clearly that she holds a position in Parliament for which she is entirely unsuited and should do the decent thing and resign, even if Michael Martin refuses to do so.

  7. David Belchamber
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    What happened to the promised Speaker’s Inquiry into the matter of parliamentary privilege?

    • Kevin Lohse
      Posted April 16, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      As I remember, Dame Harriet announced in the Commons that the Speaker’s inquiry would be held over until the DPP had made their decision. I anm agog to see what excuse for further delay the gov’t will come up with now.

      • alan jutson
        Posted April 17, 2009 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Kevin
        Rest assured they will find one.
        This Speaker it would seem is above reproach, no matter what he does.
        Simply a disgrace to the position, and past holders of the position.

      • Brigham
        Posted April 17, 2009 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        I wrote to my MP asking about the Speaker, and his part in the Damian Green affair. This was the reply I got:- The speaker declined to refer the matter to the Committee of Standards and Privileges, as is his “prerogative” Well that’s all right then!!!! Do what you like and then tell everyone to **** off. The special committee “set it’s remit far narrower than the opposing parties would co-operate with,” so that was a non starter. The opposing parties seem to have no guts. Why don’t they all grab the mace or some such misdemeanour, and get barred. If enough did it, the government might get the message. This government is so bad that I bet quite a few Labour backbenchers would join them. Something extraordinary has to be done, and done soon.

  8. mikestallard
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    What bad luck that this chicken came home to roost just when the expenses scandal – yes, scandal – was closely followed by the affaire Draper.
    Once again, we are reminded that “the (military) men in tights” did a far better job than this load of Labour Minions in their idea of fancy dress.

  9. SJB
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Most of us are aware of the Home Secretary’s limitations but what about Parliament’s response, or rather the lack of one?

    Would a member – let alone a senior member – of the US House or Representatives or European Parliament have been treated like Damian Green?

    This incident seems to provide further evidence of The House of Commons deference to the executive. The police’s heavy-handed conduct (anti-Terrorist officers raiding Mr Green’s home, reducing his wife to tears; and accusing him of ‘grooming’) also seems to have gone without HoC sanction.

    Earlier this month, the police used CS gas on a party guest in the Palace of Westminster. How long before they feel bold enough to use it on an MP?

  10. alan jutson
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    John
    Did you really ever believe that Damian Green would be charged.
    As you say too many questions would be asked.
    But:
    It has shown Mr Green the effect a possible prosecution has on people when they are completely innocent.
    Preparing for a Court appearance is not a situation to be taken lightly.
    Mr Green was fortunate that he did not have to wait too long for an answer.
    Many ordinary Citizens have to spend many, many months in turmoil, and at very considerable personal expense preparing to defend themselves should they ever find themselves in a position of perhaps having to go to Court.
    The system we have now in this Country seems to be in many cases, Justice if you can afford it.
    The legal system needs an overhaul.
    As for Jackie Smith.
    Anyone who chooses to live in a room, or under the stairs of a relatives property, when you have the opportunity of a free luxury grace and favour appartment, surely cannot be of sound mind can they ?.

  11. Martin
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    The present Home Secretary is one of the poorest we have had for a long time. She suffers badly from the New Labour disease of trying to get hard line tabloid press head lines. Every piece of Stasi policy comes from her department. MS Smith has managed to alienate liberals and hard liners alike.

    Perhaps the Conservatives should table a motion requesting a transfer to the Department of Culture (Under Secretary with responsibility for late night subscription TV).

    Maybe the Conservative should ask if any of the recent alleged terrorist arrests had Ms Smith’s beloved Identity Cards?

  12. Denis Cooper
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    The arrest of Damian Green was totally unnecessary.

    In a civilised country, the police discriminate between different types of suspect.

    Some they formally arrest, and take to the police station; some they detain where they are for a period of time, so they can be identified and questioned, without formal arrest; and some they arrange to interview at a mutually convenient time and place.

    Damian Green clearly belonged in the last category.

    Whatever misinformation the police had been fed by ministers and civil servants, it was perfectly clear that he was not some Kim Philby, suspected of espionage and treason and likely to flee the country before he could be apprehended.

    So why did the police arrest him, and then release him?

    One reason is that the police are now arresting people on all kinds of spurious pretexts, as a means of adding their DNA to the police database. Damian Green has said that he wants his back – ie he wants the DNA samples and records destroyed – and quite right too.

    But I can’t help feeling that there’s another, even more sinister, reason – because the police have largely dropped the idea of securing and keeping the co-operation of the public, and instead have embarked upon a programme of intimidating the public.

    They’ve forgotten, or actively rejected, the seventh of the Nine Principles:

    http://www.civitas.org.uk/pubs/policeNine.php

    “To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

    Is it still true that “the police are the public”? Or are they becoming something else, something alien – increasingly separate from, and increasingly hostile towards, the public?

    • mikestallard
      Posted April 17, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      To me the answer is quite clear:
      They are aliens.

  13. Mike Spilligan
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Clearly, from her pathetic and illogical rebuttal of the findings of the select Committee, as well as her reactions to the justified accusations of committing fraud on the taxpayer, Smith has no means of distinguishing right from wrong. Moreover, the senior civil servant involved, Sir David Normington, also used poor judgement, or no judgement at all.
    Should Smith resign? Certainly not as the history of this Government shows that the bar for this post gets continually lower, and the only sensible comment we’ve heard over the years was Reid’s “Not fit for purpose”. Not that we expected Smith ever to announce when it would be, of course.

  14. Mr C
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    John

    Should not the police be called back in to arrest the top Civil Servants who were both wasting police time and our money in fabricating allegations of ‘risks to National Security’, so as to secure police involvement in their hunt for the mole?

    This is notwithstanding the disgraceful conduct of ministers, presumably briefed by the same Civil Servants, in misleading the public about immigration issues in the first place.

    At minimum, the relevant ‘Sir Humphreys’ should be sacked forthwith without ceremony or mercy. How such conduct can possibly be squared with the Civil Service’s Code of Conduct is beyond me.

    After all, as a result of the disinformation issued by these madarins, an innocent MP was arrested in Parliament, his home and constituency premises ransacked, and his confidential papers seized by anti-terrorism police for simply doing his job as a member of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

    I am aghast at the lack of press and public outrage over this scandal. Have our expectations of public servants become so debased?

  15. B Griffiths
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Arrested for simply doing his job, she has to go! Now!

  16. Blank Xavier
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    Have you seen the news about the police lying during questioning to both Mr. Green and Mr. Galley, telling them both they faced life?

    It seems to me the more pressure you put on a man – the dawn raid on his house, snatching him away from his home, devestating it, putting him in jail, letting him languish for a few hours before questioning him for hours, lying to him during questioning – the more you are trying to force him to give in, to confess, to admit.

    But once you begin to knowingly lie, you are now on the path of forcing the suspect to confess. Deception is on the same continium as torture. Torture is the use of pain to force confession; lying is the use of deception to force confession. The link between them is that neither method cares about the truth. Both seek only to obtain the confession.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted April 17, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Technically they could have faced life imprisonment, as that is the maximum sentence for the common law offence of “misconduct in public office”:

      http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/misconduct_in_public_office/index.html

      “Like perverting the course of justice, misconduct in public office covers a wide range of conduct. It should always be remembered that it is a very serious, indictable only offence carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. A charge of misconduct in public office should be reserved for cases of serious misconduct or deliberate failure to perform a duty which is likely to injure the public interest.”

      Serious misconduct like that alleged against Damian McBride, for example, although on the basis of what has been made public I’d be surprised if he was given more than a few months – that is, if the police investigated, as they should, if he was then charged and tried, and if the jury found him guilty.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted April 17, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      The police are allowed to lie during investigations. After all we want them to get evidence for the conviction of real criminals too.

      There is plenty of advice on the internet about how to handle yourself during a police interrogation – but it all boils down to saying nothing at all (apart from name and address to the custody sargeant) without the advice of a solicitor. It is (paradoxically) especially important to say nothing if you are innocent

      • SJB
        Posted April 17, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        DiscoveredJoys: “It is (paradoxically) especially important to say nothing if you are innocent”

        As Damian Green did. But let us not forget that it is not only Labour that have corroded civil liberties. The last Conservative government promoted legislation which allowed inferences to be drawn from a person’s silence: ss34-39 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994; provided for the taking of intimate body samples: ss54-59; and increased police ‘stop-and-search’ powers: s60. Although I suppose Michael Howard never imagined some of these provisions would be used on his colleagues 🙂

        I also remember Howard’s speeches about doing more for the victims of crime. Yet he replaced the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board with a tariff scheme which paid substantially less. For example, imagine a bunch of thugs beat you up and leave you severely brain-damaged. Pre-1996, an award would take into account your need for different accommodation, the fact that you could never work again and your need to be constantly looked after. Not any more.

        • Confused & Angry
          Posted April 20, 2009 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

          It is simply a cheap psychological gambit by the police to browbeat an accused about the length of a sentence.

          As a barrister Damian Green would know that (fortunately)
          is not up to the police to set the sentence.

          Indeed, I believe that there are still some minor procedural obstacles to overcome before any sentence is set, such the ‘right’ of a defendant to plead ‘not guilty’, the consequent need for a trial and a resultant conviction.

          I understand that the need for a trial in such cases hasn’t yet been abolished by Jackie Smith and that in most – but not all – cases a conviction is still a pre-requisite for the punishment of an offender.

          On the subject of Jackie Smith, words fail me. Were it not for her shameless (handling of the truth and the way she works out her expenses -ed), I would feel a degree of pity for someone who is obviously so completely out of their depth. Her tenure at the Home Office has been an unmitigated disaster. How can such a great country as ours have been dragged so low by such people?

  17. tim holden
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Frau Schmidt and the Quickstapo. A sorry tale of bathplugs and leaks. However sowwi she might profess to be, the currency of British politics is even more debased than the pound.

  18. David B
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    But perhaps we British need the wake-up of learning what life in an oppressive regime is like. Our East European neighbours had to put up with this for 2 generations. We have only a few more months. Roll on election day.

  19. A. Sedgwick
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Long serving governments become tired and ragged towards their end, but this one has the look of belonging to a failed and crumbling state e.g. Zimbabwe. All normal values have been turned on their heads and it is very difficult to believe a word any minister says anymore.

  20. Roy
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Is it too much to hope that the opposition parties (on behalf of the infuriated electorate) will propose a vote of no confidence in this incompetent Home Secretary, probably the worst we’ve ever had.

  21. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    You could argue that New Labour aimed to win power by using the Scottish Labour political machine tactics. Unfortunately they didn’t know how to exercise that power to rule, only to spin against and destroy people opposing ‘the machine’.

    Jacqui Smith, not the brightest Home Secretary ever, worked under the cover of the machine, but was not part of it. I suspect that she was always going to end up as the disposable ‘patsy’ for those on the inside. She will not be missed.

  22. Glyn H
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    (Ed: accuses Miss Smith over her choice of main and second residence)
    One used to think that Charles Clarke was a somewhat pompous buffoon – a sort of Frank Dobson with added bottom – but no one thought that he was a standing joke.

    Today Private Eye has a cartoon in The Broon-ites where even the Home Secretary’s dog is making out a list – Second Dog Kennel £45,000, designer Dog Bowl £920……..

    • Confused & Angry
      Posted April 20, 2009 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      I cannot think of one of the long line of Labour Home Secretaries since 1997 whose presence in the Home Office has not been an insult to the people of this country, an affront to our intelligence and an offence to those who died in two world wars to preserve this country from tyranny and oppression.

      I can fully understand why the French did what they did to their ruling class in 1789. If only I could buy a tumbrill on e-bay!

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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