Leading article: Mr Brown's Cabinet reshuffle begins ahead of time

Jacqui Smith makes her exit from the Home Office before she is pushed

Share
Related Topics

In an extraordinary few hours at Westminster, even by the frenetic standards of this spring, it was hard to keep track yesterday of who was going, who was staying, and whether the timescale was the end of the week (for the expected Cabinet reshuffle) or the next election. But the highest profile departure to be made known, if not actually announced, was that of the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. While she apparently hopes to stay on in the Commons – intending to fight for re-election in Redditch – she is resigning as Home Secretary after almost two years in the job.

Ms Smith's decision has many layers of significance. The first is entirely practical. In leaving vacant one of the three great offices of state, she gives the Prime Minister more leeway than he might otherwise have had when planning his reshuffle. If he wants to move the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, this is one destination that would not look too much like a demotion. If not, it still places a high-level position at his disposal. And, of course, it saves Ms Smith the humiliation of being sacked.

In leaving voluntarily, Ms Smith is doing Mr Brown another favour. As the first Cabinet minister and MP to have her expenses "outed" in the media, she has the dubious distinction of blazing the trail on the scandal that has been blowing Parliament apart ever since. What is more, the particular revelations about her claims – with their petty banality (the bath plug), their sleaziness (the "adult" films viewed by her husband) and the bizarre living arrangements (a room at her sister's house declared as her primary residence) – gave other MPs a graphic preview of what they were in for and set the tone for almost everything that has followed.

But Ms Smith could also be said to be doing the country a favour. Over her two years as Home Secretary, she has proved a disappointment. At the beginning, her appointment looked like a master stroke. By naming a woman to head the Home Office for the first time, Mr Brown deftly allayed fears that women would take a backseat in his government. And she was rightly praised for the calm and quiet way in which she dealt with the failed terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow. By condemning terrorism pure and simple and refusing to talk about "Islamic terrorism", she also reinforced the welcome change of vocabulary initiated by Gordon Brown in eschewing the term "war on terror". This, though, has to be seen as the high point of Ms Smith's career.

Thereafter she proved all too amenable to toeing the Government's repressive line on surveillance, ID cards and the like, while showing no special competence at running her department – a department half its original size after the creation of the Ministry of Justice. It was left to the newly elected mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to show her how to deal with the gaffe-prone Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.

Some may be tempted to see in the fate of Ms Smith, and the impending departure of what might seem a disproportionate number of female MPs – Beverley Hughes and Patricia Hewitt added their names to the list yesterday – as a warning to aspiring women politicians. But this would be wrong. Each has her own reasons for going; alas, Ms Smith was not up to the job.

By putting her job into play now, however, Ms Smith has underlined the opportunity, short-lived though it will be, that Mr Brown must grasp if he wants to fight on. His next Cabinet must combine innovation, competence and, above all, hands that are squeaky clean. His past performance as a talent-spotter does not raise enormous hope.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz