The direct questions you ask politicians rarely get a satisfactory answer. But if the questions are good enough the answers don't matter. Here are John Denham's questions to the Home Secretary yesterday at the Home Affairs Select Committee.
"The only written material that you based the 90-day detention proposal on were three police press releases and two sides of A4 describing one case. Given the controversy that ensued, do you think that was sufficient?"
"The only further evidence, even after the Bill was published, was a letter from Andy Hayman. What other evidence did you request?"
"To what extent did you analyse the police request for 90 days?" And "Why did you describe the evidence for 90 days as 'compelling'?"
The answers were all Charlie Clarke at his blethery best: "Blurubbleubble," he kept saying, or something very like it. "Globobblobble." If Bill and Ben ever want to learn English they will take lessons from the Home Secretary.
There was one answer which was revealing: John Denham asked him about Lord Carlisle's support (on which Mr Clarke has leant heavily). Apparently, Lord Carlisle's view was formed by one particular case. It is central to the Government's advocacy. So, the question was this: "Are you familiar with the case Lord Carlisle based his judgement on?"
The Home Secretary said: "I am familiar with cases but not with that case. I haven't asked him what in particular has led him to his view." If you don't believe that, ask the pixies for help. If he didn't ask, he didn't want to know. Tony Blair didn't ask what sort of weapons the famous WMD were. And for exactly that reason: he didn't want to know the answer (pop-guns, in the event).
Back in July last year, post-explosions, the Home Secretary had been cross-party and consensual. It caused quite a glow at the time. Then there was that headline-grabbing intervention by the Prime Minister and he became grand, isolationist, political.
David Winnick asked him whether his posture had been influenced by "someone above his pay station". Mr Clarke said: "Not at all, that would be entirely wrong to suggest that." I'm not calling Mr Clarke a liar but ... suggestions on how to finish that sentence will be gratefully received.
Mr Winnick also asked whether the Government now accepted 28 days. MrClarke said: "Let me be clear. I'm not saying that. And I'm not saying the opposite." And then, perhaps fearing he had given away too much: "I'm not committing myself to 28 days nor to a view whether we should come to a view whether we should seek to change it." I think that means he will change it in a heartbeat if the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill gets through and he can change any legislation he wants.
Verdict: Committee victory (temporary).Reuse content