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Wednesday, April 26, 2006 

Clarke, conspiracies and watching the gutter.

Is this New Labour's worst ever day? It's certainly possible. It doesn't have the jubiliation which followed the government defeat over the 90 day detention without trial clause, it doesn't have the the weary expectedness of having to rely on the Tories over the education bill, and it doesn't have the shock which followed the death of Dr David Kelly. What it does have is the piling up of huge problems all at once.

Clarke himself yesterday certainly did not seem to be telling the full truth over whether he was willing to resign or not. He originally said: "I do not think it is a resigning matter." Whoops! 24 hours later and it emerges that Clarke obviously did think it was a resigning matter, as he offered his resignation to Blair at 4pm yesterday, when it was refused. He also offered to resign at an earlier date, according to other interviews he conducted. Clarke sure does seem to change his mind a lot. For now we're stuck with Clarke, it seems, perhaps only because Blair has no one else to replace him with. He can't move John Reid yet again, especially after he finally got to the job he wanted as Defence Secretary. David Blunkett would be laughed out of the commons, and besides, it was mainly under his watch that the blunders happened. Peter Hain is known for being "soft" left, even if he is loyal, which isn't going to appeal much to Blair when he has the tabloids constantly screaming at him. It's unlikely that'd he promote someone like David Miliband, or any of the junior ministers. Hence why Clarke was asked to stay. It now all depends on whether Clarke can resist the newspaper and Tory pressure, who are now demanding he go after originally coming across softly on the issue.

Clarke has known about this for a while, and the government originally did as much as possible to keep it quiet. It only emerged after some persistent questioning by the Tory MP Richard Bacon, and an investigation by the Commons public accounts committee. Why has it come out now, especially seeing how damaging this is going to be to the local election campaign? The answer to that is that today John Gieve was going to give evidence, along with other officials to the public accounts committee. The government couldn't take the risk of Gieve or the others "unintentionally" (in their words) misleading the committee again, as they already had before. They also couldn't take the risk of this coming out from the committee today without them being able to get their rebuttal in first. This explains why Clarke yesterday performed his act of contrition in front of the media, and not in a statement to the House, which the Speaker later in the day demanded.

Which brings us to how the government has desperately tried to spin the matter. They knew this was coming, as they have acknowledged. Yesterday was the last possible day they had to break it without being caught out, and that is exactly what they did. To soften the blow as it were, and to show just how tough Blair and Clarke are on "law 'n' order", we had Blair in the Observer on Sunday attacking Henry Porter and saying how he was going to stop at nothing to make criminals leave the country. Next day we had Clarke making his speech about the media being "pernicious and poisonous" over the way their policies are infringing civil liberties and today we've had the revelation that John Prescott was shagging his secretary. Both Nick Robinson, BBC political editor and Michael White, ex-Guardian political editor claim that it's come as a total surprise to them, and that there has not been a conspiracy to try and bury this bad news. That's been laughed at by the likes of Guido, who says that it's been known about for a long time. Worth noting is that the revelation of Prescott's dalliance was in the Daily Mirror, which while critical of the government is sympathetic to its cause. All the evidence is there to suggest that there has been a concerted effort by the government to sweep it down the news agenda, while also pointing out just how hard they are on crime at the same time.

The likes of the Sun, Express and Mail have of course taken to this like a duck takes to water. The Express in its headline seems to be alleging that there were 1,032 of each mistakenly released instead of being deported. The Mail prints 4 photos of the men, of whom the first (from the left) served a four year sentence but appealed successfully against deportation. The second served a prison sentence years ago, and now has a family and his own business. Both the third and fourth men are still in prison. Still, let's not let that get in way of a good front page. The Sun decides bizarrely to relegate the story to a small box, in order to instead lead on the story of Kevin Costner, who allegedly masturbated while he was receiving a massage from a woman who was later sacked after she complained about the incident.

The Sun doesn't let the story go though, oh no. Inside we have the thoughts of today's gorgeous, pouting blonde bombshell Ami (Thanks to Bloggerheads):

Apparently only Sun readers will be outraged about it, which must mean that nearly everyone is a Sun reader. My advice to "Ami" is to stop spelling your name with an I you pretentious cunt, and put some clothes on. Not that they are "Ami"'s thoughts of course, they are in fact Rebekah Wade's. And Wade herself (unless one of her lackeys wrote the leader column) is suitably outraged as well:
HUNDREDS of ex-cons who should have been kicked out of Britain are loose on our streets - and police haven't a clue where to find them. They include three murderers, nine rapists and five child sex fiends. Others were banged up for manslaughter, thuggery, drugs and robbery. All were candidates for deportation. A flushed and sweating Charles Clarke admits people are entitled to be "concerned, possibly angry". That's not good enough. People are entitled to the Home Secretary's resignation - or instant dismissal for rank negligence. Incredibly, 288 criminals have gone missing since he was first warned about the crisis. Labour's "tough on crime" boast is a joke. Key staff do not talk to each other. As a result, dangerous hardmen are rated "low risk" and set free to kill and rape again by officials who don't read their records. Probation staff - when they are not off sick - can't be bothered to keep tabs. Now, almost by accident, we learn hundreds of foreign crooks have disappeared without trace. Mr Clarke, the government's "Captain Chaos", shrugs it off as a communications breakdown. But there is a theme to these government “blind spots". Ministers are desperate to avoid enraging the Left by cracking down on illegals. Deportations are rare. Yet jails are bursting at the seams because 10,000 inmates - one in eight of all prisoners - are foreign-born, most of them asylum cheats. Is it possible the Government would prefer killers to disappear without trace rather than be seen loading them on the next plane home? The Home Secretary insists he is not in the "blame game". Well, we ARE. And we blame YOU, Mr Clarke.

While the first part of the leader is not in doubt, the second part is as usual, full of errors and is downright misleading. We're told that Labour being tough on crime is a "joke". Really? I guess that would explain why the prisons are "bursting at the seams" as the leader later describes them. Probation staff apparently throw sickies a lot - unlike Sun hacks, of at least two who last year filled out "confidential employee surveys" had to beg and grovel for their jobs, one of whom had her contract ripped up on the spot for daring to be honest about what she thought of conditions in Wapping, as Private Eye reports today. Probation staff have been keeping tabs on these "killers", but it doesn't help when their orders have been badly drawn up in the first place. Apparently ministers are desperate to avoid outraging the left by cracking down on illegals, even though we saw at the start of the week Clarke and Blair doing exactly that with their "lazy and deceitful" claims about the liberal media. The leader goes on to claim that deportations are rare, which is a complete untruth. By rare you would think that would mean only small amounts of failed asylum seekers were being deported. In fact, 3,095 were deported between April and June last year, which is the newest figures I can find. That is compared to the 6,045 who had their applications initially refused, but who had the right to appeal. Jails are bursting at the seams with 10,000 foreign criminals, which is apparently one in eight, but the Sun doesn't mention that of those 10,000 some of them are locked up in the special deportation centres run by the prison service waiting to be returned to their country of origin - they are not in normal prisons.

The sad thing though is that the Sun for the most part is right. There is no excuse for why those who were ordered by the courts to be deported, around 160 of the total, were not when they finished their sentences. There's also no excuse for 288 of those prisoners still not being deported when their sentences run out once Clarke had found out about the problems between the prison and immigration services. As the Tories point out, that's why he must go. He's been utterly incompetent, and that does not bode well for his and Blair's claims that he should stay and sort it out. Some of those who were not deported were only imprisoned for minor offences, such as theft or drug possession, although the Guardian claims that only those given sentences of 12 months or more were considered for deportation, which suggests that those offences would have to been more serious than perhaps just shoplifting or having a small amount of cannabis or cocaine. Then again, who knows with the odd sentences the criminal justice system sometimes hands down? Even so, to lose men convicted of murder, rape and child abuse, to misquote Oscar Wilde, is not just unfortunate, but careless (a better word would be reckless). What we have been left with is a huge fillip to the likes of the British National Party - what better than to have "foreign" murderers and rapists walking the streets, stalking our white women to get the racist and non-racist but angry out to vote for them next Thursday? Even more despicable is the fact that there was another apparent racist murder last Friday in Kent, but in this climate it's unlikely to lead to a backlash against the likes of the BNP.

For once, I agree with the Sun. Clarke must go, but so must Blair, his cronies, cohorts and allies. We need a fresh start, and if we don't have it now, we must have it after the local elections.

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To be fair to Nick Robinson he has clarified what he meant - I think.

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