David Davis: How can Jacqui Smith escape responsibility for this outrage?

It's astonishing that she didn't know what was going on with Damian Green

Share
Related Topics

When Henry II bellowed "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" and four of his knights journeyed to Kent to murder Thomas a Becket, he famously showed abject contrition by walking to Canterbury in sackcloth and ashes.

When Jacqui Smith's petty tantrums at leaks from the Home office set in chain a series of events that ended in a posse of Counter Terrorism officers journeying to Kent to arrest Damian Green, we saw no such contrition. Her responses went from "I didn't know," to "It's not my responsibility," to "It would have been irresponsible not to have done it." That last claim was based on the assertion that national security was at risk.

Let us put to one side the Home Secretary's inability to distinguish the nation's security from her own political insecurity, and consider the facts from a man who is both independent and has all the facts, the Director of Public Prosecutions. He said, " I have concluded that the information leaked was not secret information or information affecting national security.

"It did not relate to military, policing or intelligence matters. It did not expose anyone to a risk of injury or death. Nor, in many respects, was it highly confidential. Much of it was known to others outside the civil service, for example, in the security industry or the Labour Party or Parliament. Moreover, some of the information leaked undoubtedly touched on matters of legitimate public interest, which were reported in the press."

Throughout this case Ministers have tried to imply that there was some hidden sinister aspect to this case. Indeed, the letter to the police from the Cabinet Office said in terms that there was a threat to national security. We now know that this was untrue, that it was either a lie or a piece of remarkable incompetence.

So how did it happen?

What the combination of the Damian McBride affair and the Damian Green affair tells us is that a culture of vindictiveness has grown up, in Whitehall in general and the Cabinet Office in particular. It is a culture that can only have originated from ministers and special advisers, since it is so at odds with the traditions of our Civil Service.

Indeed, the increasingly habitual use of the full power of the state to attack opponents of the government, be they whistleblowers or political rivals, is inimical to our entire liberal democratic tradition.

There are a number of questions left unresolved. Firstly we have not established whether Ministers were knowledgeable about these decisions and actions; and if they were not, why not? Police operational independence does not absolve Ministers from accountability. Are we seriously to believe that in the six month gestation of this case, no minister was consulted at any time?

Former Home Secretaries of both parties have said to me they are astonished that Jacqui Smith didn't know what was happening. She should have done. We also still have the unresolved question of Parliamentary privilege, which was undoubtedly breached in pursuit of this case.

It is the responsibility of Parliament and a free press to hold Government to account. When Governments lie or conceal information, as this one has done systematically, it is necessary to publish information from whistleblowers. They will not be possible if the police can seize parliamentary files whenever they feel like it.

Parliament also needs to consider the question of when criminal law can be used to protect confidential government information. If an employee leaks confidential information when working for a private company or individual - a celebrity's nanny, for example - they get the sack. They do not get arrested.

Government is only different in very limited circumstances, essentially involving national security. Those limited circumstances do not extend to protecting Labour politicians from embarrassment and exposure of their failures.

That is why the Damian Green affair is the second major case attempting to use "misconduct in public office" to gag whistleblowers to collapse in twelve months.

This law is antiquated, anachronistic, and has become a discretionary power for the Executive rather than a reliable protection for the people. It is time it was revoked or rewritten. After all, if we took the law literally, namely "misconduct in public office", this week we might end up arresting the Home Secretary.

David Davis is Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden and a former shadow home secretary

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific