Matthew Norman: How far will Reid go to please his master?

The ex-drunk who finds Jesus is a cliché, but the ex-drunk who finds Blair is a perplexing creature
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The Independent Online

The very last person in Britain whom anyone in vague possession of their senses would dream of mugging for an iPod, logic suggests, is "Dr" John Reid. In academic history, it seems unlikely that a philosophy doctorate has been awarded to a man more obviously striving to contain psychotic impulses than our new Home Secretary - a man cast by looks and nature as bottle-throwing extra number six in the scene in which the Glasgow Empire audience shows its appreciation for a smart-alecy London comic debuting there the Saturday night Celtic and Rangers have both been heavily defeated.

So only those under the influence of hallucinogens would be tempted to liberate the good doctor from his music player. He'd tear you limb from limb, give you the kiss that bears his home city's name, and eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice Ribena (Reid, as we shall see, has been off the Chianti for years).

It is the height of impudence to affect intimate knowledge of one's readership, so on the off chance that you are a heavy user of mescaline, and contemplating a little light street violence to subsidise the habit, here's another reason to give the good doctor's MP3 the widest of berths. His taste in music is monstrous.

Dinner guests at the ex-communist's Westminster home, bought by his Brazilian wife with offshore trust money precisely as advocated in Das Kapital, report a bizarre event once the plates had been cleared. They were led to the sitting room, where Reid sat at one of those electric pianos on which the music and words scroll, karaoke-style, across the scene (according to my Berk's Preenage, the instrument belongs to a cadet branch of the Hammond-Organ family), and proceeded to perform Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" until the tears softened his rosy cheeks.

The song features in the weepie Beaches. Midler, cast dramatically against type as a sassy Jewish entertainer with a heart the size of the Bronx, sings it as her Waspy best friend Barbara Hershey lies dying. "It might have appeared to go unnoticed/ But I've got it all here in my heart," goes one verse. "I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it/ I would be nothing without you."

And now, as we reach the crescendoing chorus, I'd like you all to sing along with the Val Doonican of the Home Office as he dons his barbed-wire cardigan. "Did you ever know that you're my hero/ And ev'rything I would like to be?/ I can fly higher than an eagle/ You are the wind beneath my wings."

It doesn't require much imagination to guess whom "Dr" Reid has in mind when he treats his guests to this melodic digestif. Without Mr Tony Blair he would be nothing, and indeed he will be nothing once again the minute Mr Blair takes the gentle hint and shuffles across the Atlantic to earn £100,000 a night delighting the business leaders of America with droll tales from his stint as Bush's bitch.

Asked what he thought he'd find himself doing once Gordon Brown took over, a diary column recently reported, Reid was overheard to reply: "Washing the dishes, I suppose." That's assuming Gordon has found someone else to clean the loos.

For now, the only big job with which he need concern himself is that of establishing himself as a more pernicious, cowardly, headline-driven, nauseatingly sycophantic Blairite bagman than his three predecessors... an astonishing challenge given the efforts of Messrs Straw, Blunkett, and the Swiss finishing school-educated Charles Clarke; but one he is meeting, in typical fashion, head on.

On the day crime figures were published showing a 22 per cent increase in muggings, the Scots terrier and his master contrived not one but three diversionary tactics. First, Reid blamed the rise both on the appeal of the iPod, and on the policeman in whom he and Mr Blair retain full confidence, Sir Ian Blair. Then he announced that he is sacking a quarter of the Home Office's senior staff. Finally, inevitably, repulsively and exclusively, it was leaked to The Sun that the time-honoured concept whereby serious offenders are considered for parole - not given it, mind; considered for it by experts in the field - halfway through their sentences is to be ditched.

It should go without saying that there is little prospect of this coming to pass. According to official Home Office statistics, 97.3 per cent of all eye-catching initiatives with which the PM is personally associated never make that small but crucial leap into reality. Lost last week amid the embryonic catastrophe unfolding in the Middle East, it was quietly revealed that the identity card scheme will almost certainly never be retrieved from the "back-burner" (dustbin, in English); and that the autocratic centralist masterplan to merge police forces has also been abandoned. The purpose of such announcements, after all, is seldom to warn the populace of what will happen, but to flatter Rupert Murdoch's red tops, which have demanded this sort of nonsense for decades, thus buying Mr Blair more time to do God knows what other than play for more time.

With more prisoners than ever before, and with the prisons virtually at maximum capacity, it is only on crime itself that Mr Blair and his latest henchman now concentrate. At this rate, it won't be long before the reintroduction of capital punishment is, like nuclear energy, back on the agenda with a very literal vengeance. Until then, the causes of crime must go hang themselves.

The causatory question that intrigues me about Reid is what possesses him to degrade himself by carrying out the idiotic, populist whims of a master on political death row himself. How can so arrogant, self-regarding and brittle a man live with being the object of uniform loathing and ridicule from an electorate that sees in crystal clarity the chasm between the hard man facade and the reality of a snivelling wretch who would (to borrow from Tessa Jowell) throw himself in front of a car to protect his leader?

The answer, you suspect, is displacement. John Reid was besotted with communism, and abandoned it when it became inconvenient. He loved the booze and gave that up. Yet just like Alastair Campbell, he needed some new focus for the energies released by sobriety and something else to worship. The ex-drunk who finds Jesus is a cliché, as fans of George W Bush would concede, but the ex-drunk who finds Blair is an altogether more perplexing creature. How on earth do you cope with Mr Blair's perpetual sanctimony without the stiffest drink?

Perhaps for "Dr" Reid the answer is that he needs no other stimulant than the PM's approval to fly higher than an eagle. It will be a particular pleasure, when that stagnant wind beneath his wings finally blows itself out, watching him crash to earth.

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