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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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HomeNewsDemocracy in decay: Jacqui Smith is risen from the political grave

Democracy in decay: Jacqui Smith is risen from the political grave

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YOU’D think that with those 411 MPs, Sir Keir Starmer would be spoiled for choice for his new ‘government of all the talents’. Instead, he’s resurrecting old cronies who’ve been languishing during the 14-year pseudo-conservative administration.

Miliband, Cooper, Harman and the rest are back on track. Some are not even elected MPs. Sir Patrick Vallance (former government chief scientific adviser), James Timpson (CEO of the key-cutting and shoe-repair company) and Richard Hermer KC (eminent lawyer) have been given peerages to sit in the House of Lords and attend cabinet.

Not least among Yesterday’s Persons is former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who lost her Redditch seat in 2010. Since last Friday she has been Minister of State at Education, legitimised via a life peerage. To celebrate, she gushed on X: ‘I am incredibly proud to be returning to education with the enormously impressive Bridget Phillipson in a job which is crucial for ensuring opportunities for all and contributing to the government’s central mission to deliver growth,’ concluding with a smiley face emoji.

Certainly an opportunity for Smith, an Oxford PPE graduate and former teacher. A keen Labour Party activist, she was selected on an all-women short list for Parliament in 1997, one of Tony Blair’s ‘babes’. Smith worked with Estelle Morris at Education and Employment for two years. Her brief? To raise achievement in the classroom. Unlike the ‘enormously impressive’ Ms Phillipson, Estelle Morris committed to resign if she failed to meet her targets, and to her credit, she did, in 2002, admitting that she ‘did not feel up to the job’. Jacqui Smith should have done the same. A report into literacy and numeracy among 13-to-19-year-olds published in 2010 by Sheffield University showed the Minister of State did not have much success. Number skills in England remain poorer than in many other countries, especially industrialised ones.

Now it’s back to the future. Smith’s new role will be oversight of skills, further and higher education. The key pledge in Labour’s manifesto is the creation of a ‘Skills England’ body, which looks like another failed New Labour resurrection. The original New Labour skills quango was axed by Gordon Brown only for him to replace it with two more, equally useless: ‘There is to be a Young People’s Learning Agency, charged with helping local authorities work coherently together in providing for the 14-19 age bracket, and Skills Funding Agency (SFA) to administer the flow of £4bn of public money a year to colleges and training organisations.’ The rehashed Starmer version is intended to ‘bring together businesses, training providers and unions with regional and national government . . . to create a highly trained national workforce that meets the economy’s needs’. Soundbite rollouts – New Labour all over again.

In 2007, Smith became the first woman Home Secretary.

Her tenure was painfully beset with what journalist Andrew Pierce called ‘gaffes and errors’. The Chief Prosecutor in North West England, Nazir Afzal, told BBC radio in 2018 that under her aegis the Home Office issued a memo to all police forces that the child victims of Pakistani grooming gangs had made ‘an informed choice’ and ‘it’s not for you police officers to get involved in’.

As Home Secretary Smith was forced to apologise for underestimating immigration figures after it was revealed that the increase in foreign nationals working in the UK since 1997 was 1.1million, 300,000 more than previously stated. Then there was the Home Office staff illegal immigrant worker scandal. An investigation found 11,000 such illegals to have been working in security. Under a grilling from the then shadow Home Secretary, David Davis MP, Smith was forced to admit there had been only 15 arrests and only 409 licences revoked. The Home Office refused to say how many of this tiny number had been deported, indicating it was but a handful or even fewer.

Then came the revelation of her own false expenses claims which triggered a resignation that should have come much earlier. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found her in breach over expenses claims about her main home and for pornographic videos (watched by her husband). All paid for with taxpayers’ money. She appeared to have no more control over her private affairs than her public Home Office sphere. Charged with this fraud while holding high office, she had no choice but to resign. Yet she still felt the need to make excuses, with an apparent lack of humility or remorse, saying defiantly: ‘I know it was my expenses that people looked at because I was a woman and should have been at home looking after my husband and children.’

Labour Party members considered her to be the worst-performing member of that cabinet, with only 56 per cent of her party believing she was doing a good job. Andrew Pierce later commented that she was ‘hopelessly out of her depth in one of the most demanding jobs in politics’.

So this is what we’re landed with – a failed former politician of questionable competence or judgment, ironically dubbed Right Honourable, who doesn’t hesitate to take a hypocritical U-turn straight to the Lords despite having once stated: ‘I don’t think that people who have been disgraced should go to the House of Lords.’.

Instead of Starmer’s government of change, he’s delivering a Blair- Brown reincarnation via a shortcut through the Lords. Forget change. This is more of the ‘old Labour’ oligarchy.

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Janice Davis
Janice Davis
Janice Davis is a grandmother and former girls’ grammar school teacher

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