Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The problem for Jacqui Smith

Well, even before the recent difficulty over immigration Jacqui Smith wasn't particularly highly regarded. Her usurpation by Jack Straw made her look desperately weak, in a job that demands political strength perhaps more than any other cabinet post. John Reid's tactic was to say, after every such incident, 'Yes, this department's rubbish. I'm trying my best to sort it out, but Jesus!' It was surprisingly effective.
Jacqui Smith's tactic in this instance was to sit on information until a positive spin could be put on it or, even less creditably, until an Autumn election was safely out of the way and the news could be released in the hubbub of a new Parliament. But it's almost an understandable tactic. Charles Clarke, after all, tried the opposite approach. As soon as he was informed about a scandal involving Home Office incompetence and immigration (the release of foreign prisoners if I remember correctly) he held a press conference and then gave a statement to the House. It didn't work, the scandal never went away, and Clarke was 'resigned' by Tony Blair.
But if attempts at rapid rebuttal ended in ministerial dismissal, does wagon circling and obfuscation have a better chance? Probably not, in all honesty. The bluntness of the internal memos on finding the right line for the press office to take, and on how to make sure the story was not released as 'it would not be a positive one' are pretty damning. With Clarke the story was Home Office incompetence. With Smith the story is both Home Office incompetence and attempts at a cover up. Not a promising combination.

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