I have hugely enjoyed reading John Reid laying into the Home Office. Remarkable. One could get carried away with this tough Scot talking about the immigration department as "averse to a culture of personal responsibility" and "led by officials that are incapable of producing facts or figures that remain accurate for even a short period of time". All great fun. A sort of blood sport, in fact. Those of us who watched Sir Humphrey repeatedly coming out victorious and smug in "Yes Minister", intuitively cheer when they read the Sir Humphries finally getting their come-uppance from a real bruiser like Reid. Metaphorically, one found oneself offering to hold Mr Reid's donkey jacket as he gave those sniveling Sir Humphries a damn good pasting
However, a moment's thought away from the fun of the punch-up is needed.
One has to strain one's grey cells to remember all the Labour Home Secretaries. Fortunately, the legend that is Steve Bell gives us a helpful pictoral reminder in the Guardian today. Straw, Blunkett and Clarke all preceeded Reid over a nine year period.
During that time, it is not as if immigration and issues such as foreign prisoners have been secreted in the long grass of the public agenda. Blair, since he became Labour leader, in 1994, has made a priority of this area as part of his bid to win over middle England. He has been very tough on immigration etc. He has focussed his Home Secretaries to bring forward legislation and initaitives so that Labour look tough on illegal immigrants, and the worst venom of the Dailies Mail and Express is abated.
At the same time, there has been little Willie Hague and Dracula Howard (plus that bald bloke in charge between them) breathing fire about these issues when they were leading the Conservatives.
So, the Labour government have had nine years to sort out the Home Office in this area which they themselves have made a top priority. And yet, Reid is saying that they have failed terribly. The Labour government has failed to sort out "the scope...information technology, leadership, management, systems and processes" in the Home Office. That is actually John Reid's assessment and his words. That list of problems doesn't leave much else in the department except the flower arrangement on the reception desk. Presumably Reid approves of that.
It is very easy for John Reid, in the worst tradition of playground bullies, to pick on civil servants who cannot talk back publicly at him. But this is the most enormous smokescreen. What on earth have Labour been doing for nine years if they have failed so catastrophically to sort out an essential and (their) top priority Home Office department?