Leading article: A case of incompetence and distorted priorities

Share

It is unlikely that Charles Clarke is savouring the irony. In the same week that the Home Secretary decides to launch an attack on the liberal media for daring to criticise the Government's record of knee-jerk authoritarianism, it is revealed that the same minister has been failing to perform one of his most basic duties. This is unfortunate timing for Mr Clarke's crusade against "lazy" journalism, to put it mildly.

It turns out that in the past seven years, just over 1,000 foreign nationals convicted of serious offences have been released from British prisons without being considered for deportation - something now required by the Home Office's own guidelines. Around 100 have been tracked down, but the rest have disappeared. Mr Clarke blames a breakdown in communication between prison chiefs and immigration officers. That is no doubt true enough. But the roots of this affair lie in the way this Government goes about its business.

Even after being warned of a major problem last summer, Mr Clarke failed to prevent a further 288 foreign prisoners slipping through the net. The Home Secretary defends this slow response by claiming that changing procedures in Home Office agencies is like turning around an oil tanker. This would be more credible if Mr Clarke had not personally spent much of the past year pushing through grossly illiberal legislation, such as a national ID card scheme and outlawing the "glorification" of terrorism. If only some of this energy had been spent on sorting out glaring administrative problems.

But then, such work does not attract enough "tough on crime" headlines. The Prime Minister and successive Home Secretaries have been pumping out an average of three crime and security Bills every year. Each has been proclaimed as a revolutionary new method for keeping us safer. Yet basic administrative incompetence, rather than a shortage of legislation, may have been the greater threat to public safety.

A sense of proportion is necessary. We should remember that all these individuals concerned served their sentences - and a foreign criminal released into the community is not necessarily a greater danger to the public than a British one. We should also acknowledge that not all of them would necessarily have been deported.

We must also be very careful about the wider lessons we draw from this fiasco. The passions aroused by this case have already begun to feed some nasty forces in our society. The right-wing media has used it to bolster its tirades against "our porous borders" with the vicious implication that all immigrants are potential criminals. And lurid headlines featuring "missing" foreign criminals could easily help the BNP, already benefiting from a surge in publicity, in the coming local elections. The general sense of panic about crime has been regrettably stoked by this whole business too.

This is, however, a serious administrative blunder. And it reveals something disturbing about the way this Government works. Mr Clarke appears to regard the Home Office as primarily a political base and a pulpit from which to lecture the press, rather than a department of government that needs direction and leadership. The public is entitled to demand that he now devote more time performing his basic duties as Home Secretary - however mundane he may find them.

The real lesson of this affair is that ministers should busy themselves with making sure that existing systems function properly, rather than spending all their time dreaming up eye-catching initiatives and playing petty party politics. Ultimately, it would be a travesty if we allowed the incompetence of Mr Clarke to be used as an excuse for yet more repressive legislation or to add to the mindless hysteria over foreigners.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Ellen E Jones
Scientists have discovered the perfect cheese for pizzas (it's mozzarella)  

Life of pie: Hard cheese for academics

Simmy Richman
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Chosen to lead the women's wing of the ruling Zanu-PF, the wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding the 90-year old
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution