Michael Brown: Our Home Secretary is now a joke

As a Tory sympathiser, I hope the opposition resists the temptation to call for her dismissal

Thursday 26 December 2013 05:00

Jacqui Smith and her husband have a maximum of 13 more pay packets and expenses claims before the voters of her Redditch constituency call time on both their services. Simultaneously she will be relieved of her jobs as Home Secretary and Member of Parliament. As a consequence, her husband will also be dismissed as her £40,000-a-year constituency organiser. There can now be no doubt that Ms Smith is on political death row. The only question is whether it will be the Prime Minister or the voters who carry out the ministerial death sentence.

In some ways her decisions over her current living arrangements – sleeping in the back bedroom of her sister's London house to make a claim on expenses for her constituency home – make perfect sense.

With unemployment, as both an ex-MP and an ex-home secretary, staring her – and hubby – in the face, it is hardly surprising she is finding a lucrative way to fill her boots to maximum advantage before her P45 is issued in May 2010. The calls for her resignation will, no doubt, be deafening. It is ironic, however, that it should be her husband's presumed loneliness – with only blue movies for company in their constituency home on which she claims the tax-free allowance of £24,000 a year – that has compounded her woes.

But as a Tory sympathiser, I hope that the official opposition resists the temptation to call for her dismissal. Or, at any rate, if they do, that in their hearts they will pray the Prime Minister will not heed the call. For as the holder of one of the great offices of state her remaining presence on the Government front bench, between now and polling day, will be worth more votes to her Redditch Tory opponent in particular – and to the Tory party generally – than her immediate removal.

A sacked minister is no use to an opposition. A wounded and crippled minister, limping on for the rest of their cabinet career, is far more beneficial. The nightmare for the Tories must be that, as with David Mellor in 1992, Government backbenchers will themselves decide to wake up to the damage her continuation as a cabinet minister is doing to their own Government's reputation.Labour MPs, however, will be so concerned for their skins when their additional costs allowances are published in a few weeks time that they will decide that a conspiracy of silence over Ms Smith is preferable to a resignation. Thanks to her husband, the Home Secretary has moved from being a mere "scandal-hit minister" to becoming for the Prime Minister that most lethal of all political beings: a figure of ridicule. Nothing is more damaging to a government than ministers who are no longer loathed but who become, instead, utter jokes.

Throughout her remaining months in office, everywhere she goes, every dispatch box appearance and every television interview she undertakes will be accompanied by public ridicule and laughter. Let every voter enjoy this grisly spectacle until the electoral grim reaper puts Ms Smith out of her misery. The £116,000 so far claimed – apparently legitimately – for her additional costs allowance on the home her husband lives in to watch the blue movies is a small price for the nation to pay for a good laugh in these otherwise bleak times. I'd even let her hubby keep the £10 cost of the porn he claimed from the taxpayer.

When ministers are laughed at – simply because of their continuing presence in government – they lose respect, reputation, authority and votes. The Major government was tarnished as much by the ludicrous personal sexual escapades of individual ministers as by failures of policy.

If Gordon Brown had any remaining authority himself he would have called time some while ago on Ms Smith, even before yesterday's revelations. Thankfully, however, he is now so gloriously out of touch with the perceptions of the general public that he will, presumably, issue the usual Downing Street expression of confidence. With luck he will not even drop her in an expected summer reshuffle. It is all a far cry from one of Ms Smith's predecessors, the great William Whitelaw, who in 1982 immediately offered his resignation as Home Secretary after a man was discovered breaking into Buckingham Palace and ended up in the Queen's bedroom. But for another year we can enjoy the hypocritical spectacle of Home Office announcements about equality and women's rights that has been the hallmark of Ms Smith's tenure at the Home Office.

There she was, just a fortnight ago, offering measures to tackle the "sexualisation" culture of young teenage girls, seen in "clothes, videos and music lyrics". At vast expense to the public purse she recently commissioned an Ipsos/MORI poll which found that a majority of the public believe it is never right for a man to hit or slap his wife or girlfriend.

We probably knew that already. What would be far more interesting would be a poll finding about how women should treat their husbands to adult movies while the woman is toiling alone over red boxes late at night in her sister's back bedroom, miles from the family home.

There is an utter insouciance about ministers' attitudes towards disgrace which almost inspires admiration for their contempt for the public and the public purse. At least in previous eras there was an embarrassment and contrition that is utterly missing from today's scandals. I resigned from government as a junior whip in 1994 after a News of the World exposé. Somehow the feeling that I might be laughed at, gossiped about and – more important – had "let the side down" meant that my own judgement led me instantly to resignation.

Of course, no one should necessarily be punished in politics for the sins of their spouses, and Ms Smith has apparently given her husband an ear-bashing about it. But somehow any sympathy for her embarrassment is negated by her own stupidity for the ludicrous claims – albeit within the rules – she has hitherto made on her additional costs allowance.

Across the country, police authorities are currently running adverts "If you suspect it, report it" – presumably another of Ms Smith's daft wheezes. She can be assured that for the rest of her tenure these words will be applied to her and her husband's every action and utterance.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments