Michael Brown: Our Home Secretary is now a joke

As a Tory sympathiser, I hope the opposition resists the temptation to call for her dismissal

Share
Related Topics

Jacqui Smith and her husband have a maximum of 13 more pay packets and expenses claims before the voters of her Redditch constituency call time on both their services. Simultaneously she will be relieved of her jobs as Home Secretary and Member of Parliament. As a consequence, her husband will also be dismissed as her £40,000-a-year constituency organiser. There can now be no doubt that Ms Smith is on political death row. The only question is whether it will be the Prime Minister or the voters who carry out the ministerial death sentence.

In some ways her decisions over her current living arrangements – sleeping in the back bedroom of her sister's London house to make a claim on expenses for her constituency home – make perfect sense.

With unemployment, as both an ex-MP and an ex-home secretary, staring her – and hubby – in the face, it is hardly surprising she is finding a lucrative way to fill her boots to maximum advantage before her P45 is issued in May 2010. The calls for her resignation will, no doubt, be deafening. It is ironic, however, that it should be her husband's presumed loneliness – with only blue movies for company in their constituency home on which she claims the tax-free allowance of £24,000 a year – that has compounded her woes.

But as a Tory sympathiser, I hope that the official opposition resists the temptation to call for her dismissal. Or, at any rate, if they do, that in their hearts they will pray the Prime Minister will not heed the call. For as the holder of one of the great offices of state her remaining presence on the Government front bench, between now and polling day, will be worth more votes to her Redditch Tory opponent in particular – and to the Tory party generally – than her immediate removal.

A sacked minister is no use to an opposition. A wounded and crippled minister, limping on for the rest of their cabinet career, is far more beneficial. The nightmare for the Tories must be that, as with David Mellor in 1992, Government backbenchers will themselves decide to wake up to the damage her continuation as a cabinet minister is doing to their own Government's reputation.Labour MPs, however, will be so concerned for their skins when their additional costs allowances are published in a few weeks time that they will decide that a conspiracy of silence over Ms Smith is preferable to a resignation. Thanks to her husband, the Home Secretary has moved from being a mere "scandal-hit minister" to becoming for the Prime Minister that most lethal of all political beings: a figure of ridicule. Nothing is more damaging to a government than ministers who are no longer loathed but who become, instead, utter jokes.

Throughout her remaining months in office, everywhere she goes, every dispatch box appearance and every television interview she undertakes will be accompanied by public ridicule and laughter. Let every voter enjoy this grisly spectacle until the electoral grim reaper puts Ms Smith out of her misery. The £116,000 so far claimed – apparently legitimately – for her additional costs allowance on the home her husband lives in to watch the blue movies is a small price for the nation to pay for a good laugh in these otherwise bleak times. I'd even let her hubby keep the £10 cost of the porn he claimed from the taxpayer.

When ministers are laughed at – simply because of their continuing presence in government – they lose respect, reputation, authority and votes. The Major government was tarnished as much by the ludicrous personal sexual escapades of individual ministers as by failures of policy.

If Gordon Brown had any remaining authority himself he would have called time some while ago on Ms Smith, even before yesterday's revelations. Thankfully, however, he is now so gloriously out of touch with the perceptions of the general public that he will, presumably, issue the usual Downing Street expression of confidence. With luck he will not even drop her in an expected summer reshuffle. It is all a far cry from one of Ms Smith's predecessors, the great William Whitelaw, who in 1982 immediately offered his resignation as Home Secretary after a man was discovered breaking into Buckingham Palace and ended up in the Queen's bedroom. But for another year we can enjoy the hypocritical spectacle of Home Office announcements about equality and women's rights that has been the hallmark of Ms Smith's tenure at the Home Office.

There she was, just a fortnight ago, offering measures to tackle the "sexualisation" culture of young teenage girls, seen in "clothes, videos and music lyrics". At vast expense to the public purse she recently commissioned an Ipsos/MORI poll which found that a majority of the public believe it is never right for a man to hit or slap his wife or girlfriend.

We probably knew that already. What would be far more interesting would be a poll finding about how women should treat their husbands to adult movies while the woman is toiling alone over red boxes late at night in her sister's back bedroom, miles from the family home.

There is an utter insouciance about ministers' attitudes towards disgrace which almost inspires admiration for their contempt for the public and the public purse. At least in previous eras there was an embarrassment and contrition that is utterly missing from today's scandals. I resigned from government as a junior whip in 1994 after a News of the World exposé. Somehow the feeling that I might be laughed at, gossiped about and – more important – had "let the side down" meant that my own judgement led me instantly to resignation.

Of course, no one should necessarily be punished in politics for the sins of their spouses, and Ms Smith has apparently given her husband an ear-bashing about it. But somehow any sympathy for her embarrassment is negated by her own stupidity for the ludicrous claims – albeit within the rules – she has hitherto made on her additional costs allowance.

Across the country, police authorities are currently running adverts "If you suspect it, report it" – presumably another of Ms Smith's daft wheezes. She can be assured that for the rest of her tenure these words will be applied to her and her husband's every action and utterance.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor