Labour hits the skids. Timing immaculate. Already doing badly in the polls, slated on the doorstep by their own supporters – Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt and John Prescott decide to put the nail in the coffin of the local elections. How far they will fall – no idea.
But to the specifics. After PMQs, Charles Clarke comes to the Dispatch Box to make a Statement on the Deportation of Foreign Nationals. It was a pretty subdued performance really. I mean, what’s a man to say? He tried resigning – and Blair refused – tasking him with making everything all right. Poor sod. So he apologised and said he wanted to stay to sort out the mess. But I don’t think he should stay. Actually, I quite like Charles Clarke the person. He is intelligent and engaging. But – on his watch – this level of incompetence is so staggering (given the many warnings about it) that he has to go. If he were not to go – it would be like saying it doesn’t matter what happens in your department – even when as serious as this. And that continual degrading of standards is not acceptable. There are things that go wrong in any department, any office – and it is a matter of staff not doing something properly and no, I would not expect a Minister to go for run of the mill errors. But the warnings he received, the lack of action following them and the seriousness of the omissions make this a resigning matter.
It would seem, however, that Blair will only ‘let him go’ if public pressure mounts – so if you want to add to public pressure for Clarke to go – visit www.libdems.org.uk.
There are a number of areas that worry me about the substance of the matter in hand as well. I am less bothered about the ‘foreign’ bit. Yes – of course where a judge has said the criminal should be considered for deportation, then this consideration – and if decided so, deportation – should happen and in good time. And no doubt if one of those roaming our countryside murders or rapes – it will be a huge issue.
However, the bigger questions for me are the incompetence when this issue was flagged up; regardless of nationality – murderers are meant to be followed up on release and sex offenders are meant to be on a register – in other words, for both of these categories we should know where they are. How many released murderers or rapists are wandering around without the authorities keeping appropriate tabs on them? Is this endemic? And what is so complex about a foreign national coming for release. All the prison and the Home Office have to do is talk to each other. It’s not rocket science.
And on top and above, in some ways, all of this – is the exposure it gives to what I regard as one of the worst sides of this Labour Government – its proclivity for producing endless legislation when usually there is perfectly good legislation in place already – just not enforced. That is what this country needs – people doing their job properly using the laws that exist to enable them to do so. That’s why Charles Clarke has to go. If we accept him failing so badly in his job then we cannot expect everyone down the line to do their job properly. New legislation and new action-man headlines don’t change a thing!