Back on reshuffle day I speculated that Tony Blair was positioning the likes of Reid, Alan Johnson (who apparently impressed Labour backbenchers last night in his presentation of education policy) and Hazel Blears to stop a Brown premiership. Yesterday, encouraged by other bloggers (here and here), I put £10 on John Reid becoming Labour’s next leader yesterday, at odds of 8-1. To stop Brown, however, Mr Reid has to deal with the crime-ridden inheritance that he has been bequeathed by his Home Office predecessors. That inheritance is summarised in this morning’s Sun as The 7 Deadly Sins…
In an open letter to John Reid in today’s Telegraph, Michael Howard – the most successful Home Secretary of modern times – gives Mr Reid some advice on how to master his department. More than anything else Mr Howard stresses the importance of hard work and long hours: "It means rolling up your sleeves and applying yourself to the unglamorous business of making sure that officials are doing what they are meant to do. A lot of it is rather boring. It can be a very hard grind. And it is not the stuff of tomorrow’s headlines or eye-catching initiatives."
That reference to eye-catching initiatives is particularly important. As the former Tory leader points out, Tony Blair’s premiership is littered with eye-catching initiatives that were designed for the following day’s newspapers but were never backed up by a serious implementation strategy. Tony Blair, Michael Howard writes, "has never bothered to understand or apply himself to the serious business of government – or "process", as he dismissively labels it. But "process" is how things get done." I don’t know if there is already a law that captures this importance of "process" but there should be. Politicians love to be associated with new initiatives but change to an organisation is always hugely disruptive. The projected benefits of any change must clearly outweigh the costs associated with that disruption. A good rule of thumb (if it doesn’t make me sound too much like Sir Humphry Appleby) is to exhaust ways of making an inadequate system work better before overhauling/ replacing that system.
Reading Michael Howard’s latest intervention reminds me of one of the great things that currently characterises the Tory position: UNITY. According to an ICM poll for BBC on local elections night, more voters (64%) think Labour divided than think Tories are divided (48%). Unity is one of the three points of the iron triangle of political success. David Cameron is in the hugely fortunate position of having his three predecessors inside his tent pissing out. A Tory leader hasn’t been in such a good position for many years.
Returning to crime… the popular focus on Labour’s Home Office shambles coincides with the launch of The Urban Crime Rankings by the Reform think tank. A BBC news report lists Britain’s top seven crime blackspots:
- Vehicle crime: Nottingham
- Rape: Portsmouth
- Assault: Leicester
- Burglary: Stockport
- Robbery: Manchester
- Gun crime: Bradford
- Murder: Nottingham
If anyone at CCHQ is reading this post I’d suggest those locations were some good places to launch some hard-hitting campaigns on crime (and a northern fightback?).