Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Blame the Government for the passport crisis - not the Home Secretary
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt.
Thursday 12 June 2014
At one point in today’s exchanges on the Great Passport Crisis the intimidating figure of Labour’s Sir Gerald Kaufman – brandishing an email “sent in the past hour” by a constituent forced to cancel her family’s flights abroad and lose a “great deal of money” – asked what Theresa May was going to do about “the total mess” she had caused for them. “I am sure that the Rt Hon Gentleman will be taking that matter up with ministers and the Passport Office,” she said.
Sir Gerald looked as thunderous as only he can. Understandably, since he was entitled to think that “taking the matter up with ministers” was what he had just done.
But then Ms May’s airy attempt at reassurance was faintly reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s legendary tendency to blame the “government” for things going wrong as if it had nothing to do with her.
Though a bit less fluent and assured than usual, Ms May subtly managed to distance herself from what her opposite number, Yvette Cooper, called with undisguised glee “a sorry shambles from a sorry Department”.
True, many Labour MPs seemed delighted to find an ideologically safe, Daily Mail-infuriating issue to be indignant about. Most Tory backbenchers welcomed the new measures – free upgrades for those urgently needing to travel, one year extensions for expats, emergency travel documents for children – suggesting that Ms May’s future leadership hopes remain intact.
But when the Tory, Christopher Chope, asked her how “urgent “would be defined, she referred him to the Passport Office website. Since this suggests you will get a passport in three weeks that wasn’t that reassuring.
There were puzzles – like why the sudden surge in people wanting to leave the country which May kept stressing. Helpfully, Tory Henry Smith had a constituent who needed a passport because “for the first time since 2008 they could afford to go on holiday”. But that can hardly be the only reason, since demand was last as high as this 12 years ago.
Ms May said that 250 “back-office” passport staff were being transferred to “front-line operations”. Which left you wondering what they do normally in the back office. Setting the famous “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State… requests… all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely…” to music? Writing a history of the passport from 5th-century Persian times? Or analysing the mysterious surge in passport demand instead of meeting it?
- 1 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 2 Watch: Man takes selfie every mile of 2,600 mile hike, creates amazing timelapse video
- 3 The day I starred in Only Fools and Horses
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
Saudi Arabia says it won't rule out building nuclear weapons
The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss
Jeremy Clarkson 'could be given minder' ahead of a potential Top Gear return
#FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...