The Sketch: He is not responsible - for anything

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The Independent Online

With the deliberate pace of some vast, armoured reptile, John Reid made one thing clear. Nothing was his fault. Nothing was ever going to be his fault. He wasn't responsible for doing anything.

He was only ever going to be responsible for strategic leadership. (In one of the Metropolitan police's assessments they scored most highly in the category of "strategic planning" and lowest in the category "catching criminals".) This strategic leadership isn't declaring war against foreign criminals, terrorists or illegal immigrants: this is war against the Home Office.

The department, he said, was "unfit for purpose" (that is, crap) in the following ways: scope, information technology, processes, management systems and leadership (in fact, it was complete crap).

But that wasn't to say it was dysfunctional. Why not? A clarification followed. "It is dysfunctional sometimes, in that it doesn't work." Right. Minister inherits completely crap department and can't be blamed for anything any more.

He had been in the job for "two weeks and three days". During the morning, Dr Reid said this between six and 750,000 times (Home Office estimates vary). Obviously he couldn't be expected to know anything. He has begun wisely.

James Clappison asked a subtle and penetrating question: under the new presumption, foreign prisoners can expect to "face deportation" he said. Did that mean they would be deported? Dr Reid went off on his big, deliberate tread, steadily away from the question. "I want to be honest with you," he'd said earlier. Do you find that a confidence-building phrase?

Gwynn Prosser asked Clappison's question in a different way: "Is there any estimate of the increased number of deportations that will take place as a result of the new presumption?" There was a significant pause. "Er, no," Dr Reid said (I précis. A lot.)

"Did ministers know that foreign prisoners wouldn't be chased in case they claimed asylum?"

"Not as far as I know," Dr Reid said. But he said it with uncharacteristic airiness and it sounded positively theatrical. He meant: "There is no memo with my name on it and my signature at the bottom saying: "Are you sure we should be doing this?"

He wants a "unique identifier" for prisoners, as if that will solve everything. What about their name, you ask? Not unique enough? Not technological enough. He said more than once that ID cards are the answer.

But the most basic immigration systems aren't in place. Not even a central list of people allowed into Britain or allowed to work. You can't computerise something that isn't already organised. For all his doggedness (and it's bull terrier, for those who take an interest in these things, rather than rottweiler), Dr Reid is going to be the IT consultant's pension plan. Oh, the private school fees that are to be paid by Dr Reid's ignorance of commissioning an information project!

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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