The Sketch: Graceless, unappealing, dishonest - the PM and a self-defeating case

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister (always formidable, of course) must be in a precarious position; his answers yesterday were graceless, unappealing and, in one important instance, ridiculous.

He spent much of his time blaming the Tories for their management of the Home Office; he twisted some statistics dishonestly, and provided no explanation of events in the Home Office other than to say that since March, all was well. "This is not a problem created by this Home Secretary," he concluded. Ha! More true than he thought. This problem is entirely down to the man himself. The release of foreign convicts is the product of prime ministerial headline-grabbing.

David Cameron made that point with a letter from a long serving official. It revealed there had been hands-off instructions to immigration. Had the Home Office tried to deport foreign criminals, they would have claimed asylum and the Prime Minister's "crackdown on asylum" headlines would have been jeopardised. It's Blair to blame. It's absolutely Blair.

Cameron's hands were shaking as he let this salvo off. I'm not surprised. It's a great thing to have a prime minister at your mercy. But so formidable is Mr B that even a ridiculous argument forcefully delivered will do. His main argument was indeed so self-defeating, so intellectually empty it must have come from the Home Secretary (whose brain is very much smaller than its casing). Mr Cameron had pointed out that, after Mr Clarke had been alerted to the problem, the rate of prisoners being released went up. Why?

The PM replied that there was a very simple reason. After they had been alerted to the problem, they applied more resources to it which had inevitably revealed more problems. The more they worked at solving the problem the worse it became (and under the new code) the more important it was for the Home Secretary to stay in position.

Then there was more headline-grabbing. All foreigners convicted of an imprisonable offence were to be automatically deported. Shoplifting and Asbo-breaking, remember, are imprisonable offences. That's what was dispiriting about our nice young Prime Minister. His mistake is to be corrected by an even larger and even more horrible mistake.

David Davis made a couple of powerful points to Charles Clarke: "Why did he tell the press before he told the police?" The announcement alerted the released convicts to the need to disappear. And also that the Home Secretary didn't need any new legislation - he has all the powers he needs to deport any foreigner he liked under the 1971 Immigration Act.

Charles Clarke himself put on a brutal display of vigour. It suits him. But he contradicted the PM. From what he said, prisoners wouldn't automatically be deported. Michael Howard pointed that out. There's a thought. Maybe Michael Howard should take over as Home Secretary. No: too liberal for the standards of the day.