The Home Secretary on obeying the law (not)
You might think that the home secretary, a senior cabinet minister of great experience in numerous departments of state, now responsible (among many other things) for crime and prisons policy, would see it as his his duty to encourage us all to respect the law: few politicans, after all, are capable of referring to 'citizens' without automatically adding the qualifier 'law-abiding'. Dr John Reid, however, seems to regard obedience to law as at best optional, and at worst irresponsible. According to a report in, predictably, the Daily Mail, —
Our human rights laws should be overhauled to protect the public from terrorists, John Reid has said. The Home Secretary believes judges who follow the law 'to the letter' by refusing to deport suspects, put lives at risk. As Britain is effectively at war with terrorists, human rights laws must be 'modernised' to cope with the threat, he added… Dr Reid told a G6 summit of the six largest EU members, that the distinction in international law between human rights in wartime and in peace is outdated. "…we are likely to be pushed in two competing directions. Either to look for ways around the law to safeguard our citizens … or the row all of us in the EU saw recently on rendition [referring to terror suspects flown through Britain]. Or, instead, to follow the law to the letter and thereby fail…to protect the public through, for example, our inability to deport terrorist suspects."
Like the prime minister, the home secretary seems to regard the Human Rights Act as a frustrating constraint on the government's freedom to curb our historic rights in the name of security, apparently indifferent to the fact that the Act is one of the half-dozen greatest achievements of the Blair government. It's probably only because senior New Labour ministers so often denounce the HRA that David Cameron feels able to threaten to repeal and rewrite it if and when the Tories win the next election. It's almost (but of course not quite) enough to make one contemplate voting Lib Dem.
Dr Reid has, thankfully, announced that when Blair goes, he'll go too — presumably lacking confidence that Gordon Brown will wish to avail himself of his services. Before departing, he has thoughtfully carved up his department and got rid of some of his more burdensome responsibilities, palming them off on Blair's improbable former flat-mate, the Lord Chancellor, who seems to have abandoned his recent attempt to reinvent himself as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. Since Lord Falconer (who incidentally shows occasional signs of more respect for the law and the Human Rights Act than his home secretary colleague) is another Blair chum unlikely to survive as a minister into the Gordon Brown era, it looks as if within a few weeks we shall have a new Minister of Justice and a new home secretary, whose first thankless tasks on taking office will be to clear up the mess created by Dr Reid's reckless carving up of the home office. Once the new ministers have done that, they will be able to discover what they are supposed to be doing and begin to run the country. Meanwhile Dr Reid will be having a bit of a giggle on the back benches while, no doubt, earning an honest supplementary penny or three writing articles for the Daily Mail.
After behaviour like this, can Reid really hope to inherit the Labour crown if Gordon Brown loses the next general election? Or does he really just want to spend more time with his family and less time carrying out his onerous ministerial duties, including making speeches implicitly, indeed almost explicitly, inciting judges and ministers to disobey the law? Gordon Brown might well address to the good Doctor Reid Mr Attlee's immortal words to Harold Laski on taking office in 1945: "A period of silence on your part would be welcome."