Bruce Anderson: If Clarke does not deserve sacking, who does?

The civil servants told him what was happening. He is to blame
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The Independent Online

For some years, ministers have been promising a Bill on corporate manslaughter. But it never appeared. We now know why. If it had reached the statute book, the "dysfunctional" Home Office - to use Charles Clarke's adjective - might now be facing prosecution. So might Mr Clarke. Even under existing legislation, the Home Secretary and his department could be vulnerable. It is by no means certain the victims of criminals who ought to have been deported would be unable to sue for negligence.

Government can be difficult and politics is often unfair. When Michael Fagan climbed into Buckingham Palace for a chat with the Queen, the then Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw, was castigated. The way some papers went on, you would have thought poor old Willie had been lurking around the Palace offering passers-by a leg-up. He did not resign, and rightly. There had been no systemic failure.

This time, there has. Government should have been easy, and the politics is not unfair. Charles Clarke was warned of the problem. He did nothing. As a result, the problem got worse. He continued to do nothing. He was then warned there might be adverse publicity. At last, he acted. He issued a misleading statement, itself a resigning matter. Finally, the truth was dragged out of him. He responded, by blaming his officials.

There is only one way to describe that behaviour; contemptible. The civil servants told him what was happening. He took no action. He is to blame. It was his decision to say something that he knew to be untrue. Yet again, to him, the blame. Dysfunctional? In this Home Office the dysfunction comes to the top.

A foreign criminal is approaching the end of his prison sentence. He is due to be deported. Even someone as thick as John Prescott could probably work out how to convey the prisoner to the nearest air or sea port. A government which cannot carry out such a simple procedure is not fit to be in office.

Which leads us to John Prescott. He was always far too thick for high office. Over the years, Mr Prescott has tried to deter commentators from drawing attention to his stupidity by elephantine self-pity over his failure to pass the 11-plus. But facts ought to be faced. Despite the 11-plus failure, Mr Prescott had five years in higher education. Yet he still cannot speak his own language. John Prescott is not an indictment of the 11-plus system; he is its greatest vindication.

Recently, however, he has been able to turn his linguistic incompetence to his advantage. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are on non-speakers. Meetings between them have to be arranged through the UN, with blue berets and white flags crossing green lines. In this case, John Prescott is the UN. When he is not using his official residence in Admiralty Arch to seduce civil servants, he is holding dinners at which the PM and the Chancellor are forced to be civil to one another. John Prescott cannot understand anything which either of them are saying. It all has to be translated slowly, and the matter may be complicated if he pounces on the girl doing the translating. His response then has to be translated from Prescottese back into English. I suspect that many a translator would prefer to sleep with John Prescott rather than undergo that ordeal. Whatever the balance between incomprehension and molestation, the inevitable delay has helped to ensure the survival of the Labour Government.

Before he became a mediator, John Prescott had another role. He was Tony Blair's Boxer; Boxer the horse, that is, in Animal Farm. A creature of similar intelligence to Mr Prescott - though infinitely more likeable - Boxer's job was to convince the other animals the pigs were on their side. He ended up in the knackers' yard, swapped for the price of a case of whisky. Mr Prescott's fate will be kindlier. He will be rewarded with an unsold peerage.

Nor should anyone complain about his affairs. At least they distracted him from his duties. This is a man who wants to squander billions on unwanted regional governments while tearing down Victorian terraces to shove their inhabitants into tower blocks - as well as destroying the southern English landscape. Yet we begrudge his squeeze a lift in a government car and complain about laundry bills? They are all cheap at the price. Anything that keeps John Prescott horizontal saves the taxpayer billions of pounds. Better that he screws his officials than the rest of us.

Charles Clarke has also been accused of demeaning his officials. But Hannah Pawlby used to be his diary secretary. She is now his political adviser. What a superb example of a disinterested search for talent. "There is no art to find the minds' construction in the face." King Duncan said that; poor old booby; look what happened to him. John Prescott looks like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Charles Clarke looks sullen, surly and malevolent. Neither of them are fit to hold any office of consequence. Mr Clarke is offering grovelling excuses to explain he should not resign. Even so, Mr Clarke should answer a simple point. If he does not deserve to sacked, who should ever be sacked for anything?

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