29 April 2006


This week has been quite the most bizarre in British politics for a very long time.

We have had three big players in the government severely embarrassed. John Prescott's affair with a secretary was splashed by the Mirror; Patricia Hewitt got a lot of stick for talking up the NHS just as hospitals were announcing redundancies to cope with a new funding regime; and Charles Clarke was lambasted for presiding over a failure of communication between the prison and immigration services over deportation of foreign ex-lags.

OK, I'm a journalist: I know that there are real stories here. But the way they have been run by the press and the BBC beggars belief. Prescott's fling is fascinating for the voyeur (OK, for all of us) but of no political consequence. Hewitt's Panglossian take on the state of the health service was silly — and asking for trouble — but was in essence no more than a routine assertion, faced with some stroppy nurses, that the NHS reforms will work out once the dust has settled. And, most importantly, Clarke has got it in the neck on a trifle.

I've no problem with chucking out foreigners who commit serious crimes. A denial of citizenship should be part of the punishment if you come over here and murder, rape or pillage.

But (a) not as many foreigners come over here and murder, rape or pillage these days as the Daily Mail claims; and (b) those that do and are nicked for it, do their time and are then let out "into the community" are no more or less likely to reoffend than freeborn Englishmen who have murdered, raped and pillaged — who are let out "into the community" as a matter of course.

Clarke's problem is an administrative cock-up for which he bears some responsibility, but it is a minor one. There is no way he should resign.

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