Leading article: Charles Clarke must go

Share

We come to the conclusion that the Home Secretary should resign not because we think that he is a bad or ill-intentioned minister. On the contrary, he is one of the genuine political heavyweights of this Government, among the best able to explain and defend its policies. It may be that he should continue to serve in a different capacity. Nor do we take the nostalgic view that ministers used to be more ready to accept the principle of responsibility. As John Rentoul points out on page 31, Cabinet ministers have almost never resigned because their departments have made a mess of things. The last one to do so was Sir Thomas Dugdale, who resigned as Minister of Agriculture in 1954 because his ministry unfairly refused to return land that had been compulsorily purchased in the war.

But that is not how it should be. The case is unanswerable that, if a minister knows of a serious problem that requires urgent action and fails to ensure that such action is taken, he or she should pay a price. Mr Clarke does not pretend, to his credit, that the release of foreign prisoners without considering them for deportation is a minor issue. As he began to concede on Friday, at least five people who probably should have been deported have been convicted since their release of serious offences. Full details of those five crimes have not been given, but they "included drugs offences, violent disorder, grievous or actual bodily harm". In other words, Mr Clarke's failure has had actual bodily consequences for an unknown number of victims.

The Home Secretary has also shown a lack of candour. One of his strengths as a politician has been his openness and his willingness to engage directly with criticism. He has exploited that reputation in his response to this crisis. His approach has been to give every appearance of complete disclosure, abject apology and total dedication to rounding up as many of the wrongly released 1,023 as possible. There are problems with all three elements of this strategy. First, as we report today, he has not been as candid as he could and should have been. He has known about the problem since last July, and should have appreciated its seriousness then. As it became inevitable that the full extent of the problem would emerge, the Government sought to manage the process to try to reduce its impact, delaying the statement in Parliament and the publication of details until late on Friday. When they came, the details were partial - not including the full breakdown of the original crimes committed by the most serious offenders (revealed for the first time in our pages), or their names. The transparent hope of the Government is that the police will find these people before journalists do, so that the clean-up operation can be presented as under way. That is to put saving Mr Clarke's neck before the public interest.

Second, an apology is not enough, not least because the urgency of the third element of the strategy - the hunt for the bolted horses - has exposed the slackness of Mr Clarke's initial response. It is hard to comprehend why the Home Secretary did not simply issue an instruction last summer that no foreign prisoners were to be released until deportation proceedings were completed. Of course, as Mr Clarke has said, making changes in large bureaucracies such as the Prison Service and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is like turning a supertanker. But since the scandal became headline news five days ago, the entire Home Office fleet has been spinning on a sixpence.

There are good arguments why Mr Clarke should stay. He has a deeper understanding of the Home Office in all its baroque dysfunctionality than John Hutton, his most likely successor. But they are trumped by the simple requirement of accountability. The public is less safe as a result of Mr Clarke's culpable mismanagement of his department. He should go.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Systems Developer Technical Lead

£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Energy Engineer

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

£475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

Day In a Page

A selection of 'Pro-Choice' badges are displayed on the coat of a demonstrator during a march from the Garden of Remembrance to the Dail (Irish Parliament) in Dublin, Ireland  

Ireland's refusal to provide a safe abortion to a suicidal rape victim is a national shame

Peadar O‘Grady
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment