Sunday, January 28, 2007

Reid with embarassment

Another day, another wave of embarassment for John Reid.

He is not a man who is very easy to warm to but its hard not to feel a little bit sorry for him as yet another mine explodes under his feet. He has not yet been in the job so long that he could have turned the Home Office round. The problem is that he has not helped himself - by singing from the Daily Mail song book he can hardly complain as the tune gets nastier and nastier.

However, the woes of the Home Office go to the very heart of the failed Blair project.

Whilst "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" is now often seen as simply a piece of spin it remains one of the most powerful slogans of the New Labour avalanche. David Cameron was groping towards the same position with his "hug a hoodie" speech.

But, rising to power, New Labour was obsessed with the media. Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson decreed a media planning cycle that required quick Government responses to newspaper headlines, thus creating a blizzard of initiatives. Given the nature of tabloid journalism this affected the Home Office more than any other department (with Health following close behind).

'Tough on crime' was far easier to show than 'tough on the causes of crime' - projects which would inevitably take far longer to mature. Ironically, a decade in is when some of those latter types of projects might be beginning to make a real impact. But instead we have had a decade that added a criminal offence for almost every day that New Labour has been in power.

And because there was so much going on there was no time for doing the simple, boring things like getting processes and systems lined up and teams talking to each other. No time for management.

And so we have a sky-rocketing prison population, a disaffected judiciary delighted to have the opportunity to put the boot in as they very publicly release child abusers and a Home Office in crisis.

Not to worry though, Reid has the perfect answer: capture the headlines with a plan to split the Home Office in two. Problem solved! Until the next revelation...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Freedom of Information

Why is it that this Government seems intent on destroying even the good things they've done?

They are now set on limiting the Freedom of Information Act which has been used to such effect by campaigning MPs like Norman Baker and journalists in the serious press (especially the Guardian). The aim apparently is to limit the "serial requestors" - in other words the dogged investigators who keep digging for information.

But it will hopefully save the Government £10m... Hurrah - that's enough to begin saving for another war.

New Year blues

There is a lot of speculation about the supposed imminent collapse of the most successful multi-cultural and multi-ethnic state in modern history. No, not Iraq. The UK.

Strong polls for the SNP, and carefully-fanned English resentment of the higher levels of public spending in Scotland mean that political commentators are talking seriously about Scottish independence. Or as seriously as political commentators who have a regular deadline to fill with the latest breathless crisis can do.

But this is hugely irresponsible. For 300 years the Anglo-Scottish Union has created an immensely successful dynamic that has benefited both nations. This may not always have been put to the very best possible use - witness the race for Imperial domination. But it has created the modern world of liberal democracy, the importance of the rule of law, the Industrial Revolution and the global financial system. Now – at least partly because the Tory party wants to destabilise Gordon Brown and the press are happy to have a story – all this is being cast in to doubt.

There may be a coherent intellectual argument to make for splitting the Union – but it has to involve the belief that it will be through broader integration with the European Union that England and Scotland can regain the influence and scale that would be lost through partition. To be fair that is part of the SNP argument. But the very right-wing English commentators calling for a split are the same ones who turn puce at the very mention of the EU.

As you may be able to guess from my name I feel especially torn. My family roots are Scottish but I grew up in London. One grandfather slogged through the trenches of World War one with the London Scottish. I personally feel British before I feel either Scottish or English.

The current system is not perfect. It not fair or sustainable that our current Home Secretary can bring in laws that do not affect his constituents. But to jump from this to breaking up the Union shows a short-sightedness that can only be driven by the need to sell more newspapers tomorrow. Or rattle the Chancellor.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year

I saw in the New Year in a wind-blown house somewhere near Glasgow. The storm knocked out the electricity, meaning that we ended up eating (and drinking) in a room full of candles, listening to the rattling moan of the tempest outside. A nearby shed was shaking itself to bits in the wind and it was dangerous to venture outside as the night was full of flying tiles. It had all the makings of an Agatha Christie novel and I was waiting for the sudden news that our host had been found dead in the kitchen / sitting room / bedroom, slain by a kitchen knife / tile / rolled up newspaper. The coppers would have to be round in the morning to work out who'd done what.

A useful insight in to what it must be like in Downing Street as 2007 starts.