The Home Office and Coronavirus

Over the past few decades, no Government department has failed more miserably than the chronically dysfunctional Home Office. It has long been a byword for mismanagement and warped priorities and a number of Home Secretaries have railed against it while in office.

Way back in 2006 the tough-minded Labour Home Secretary John Reid described the organisation as ‘not fit for purpose’ and those words still ring true. In its central duties of protecting the public and upholding Britain’s borders, it is a disgrace. Yet the mandarins refuse to embrace genuine reform, as the experience of Priti Patel demonstrates. Since this energetic and outspoken lady was appointed Home Secretary, the Home Office establishment has systematically tried to undermine her, particularly through poisonous briefings. 

At the weekend, this hostility came to a head with the resignation of the department’s top civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam. In an unprecedented and unedifying statement to the media, he attacked Patel, claiming that her conduct included ‘shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands.’

As he embarks on legal action for wrongful dismissal, it now seems clear that he aims to bring her down and opponents of the Tory Party are revelling in the turmoil. They believe that both Patel and her tough line on immigration are doomed, but they should not be too smug. In any forthcoming fight, neither Sir Philip nor the Home Office have much credibility. He is a classic Whitehall figure with a deeply unimpressive record. 

As the senior official at the Department for Transport, he presided in 2012 over the West Coast Main Line franchise fiasco, which a subsequent review found to be littered ‘with deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes.’ He was also criticised for the ballooning costs of HS2 and flaws in the Network rail improvement programme. 

Taking over the Home Office in 2017, he was soon embroiled in the Windrush debacle, where the Government threatened scores of British citizens with deportation over lack of documentation about their status. Yet it was the Home Secretary Amber Rudd who had to quit. Somehow Rutnam managed to weasel his way out of it.

His defenders now act as if the Home Office is an efficient organisation whose smooth functioning is put in danger by the reckless antics of Patel. In truth the department would seem to be a complete shambles and in need of urgent repair. The Home Secretary may be impatient with her officials, but she has every right to be. If they do not want to be hectored or sworn at, they should start implementing the Government’s policy instead of thwarting it at every opportunity. 

The former head of the civil service Lord Macpherson complained this week that the Tories ‘used to want to preserve our great institutions. Now they are hellbent on destroying them.’ But the Home Office is nothing like a great institution damnit! On the contrary, it continually lets down the British public. Awash with progressive ideology and political correctness, it is reluctant to maintain British borders or punish criminals. 

For more than a decade, mass immigration has been running at over six hundred thousand every year. At the same time, thanks partly to enfeeblement of the Home Office, crime is soaring – up seven percent in the last year alone, with violence up by twelve percent.

Priti Patel is hardly the first Home Secretary to feel despair. Michael Howard, appointed to the job in 1993, once spoke of his dismay at his first briefing from civil servants, who showed him a graph of inexorably rising crime into the future as though nothing could be done about it.

An adviser to David Blunkett, who became Home Secretary in 2001, said that the place was ‘a giant mess,’ a point reinforced by a scathing report in 2006 from the National Audit Office, which stated that the department’s accounts could not be verified because it ‘had not maintained proper financial books and records.’

In yet another shambles, Blunkett’s successor Charles Clarke was forced to resign after incendiary revelations about the Home Office’s pathetic failure to deport a large number of foreign criminals. 

Tellingly, it showed far more zeal in 2008 after leaks of documents to Tory frontbencher Damian Green that exposed the ineffectiveness of border controls. Displaying a robustness that it rarely showed towards criminals or illegal migrants, the Home Office launched a heavy-handed investigation that resulted in the arrest of Green. No charges were brought against him either.

Theresa Maybe survived so long as Home Secretary partly through her subservience to officialdom. However the consequences for crime and immigration were disastrous. Whatever the moans of the mandarins, change is desperately needed. 

Hopefully Ms Patel will be the one to bring it about.

It is now officially known as Covid 19 which presumably makes sense to somebody. Presumably the easily remembered name Coronavirus was a little too cuddly, suggesting it might have mutant strains called colavirus and fantavirus. It is obviously causing a huge problem and ministers and NHS chiefs are right to take sensible precautions.

But are they being sensible at all? Apparently Bunter J and his medical boffins will announce detailed plans today, but despite all warnings, I have been summonsed to my local surgery tomorrow for a routine blood pressure test. What madness is this? My blood pressure is high but it has been that way for twenty-five years. Why am I being asked to expose myself to a far more deadly – if we are to believe what we read – lergy than high blood pressure?

It seems to me that there is no joined-up thinking here. Schools are closing across the country, but last Friday thousands of kids were allowed to play truant so they could huddle together in Bristol to hear that silly little Greta child screeching about how the earth is on fire – oblivious to the torrential rain which turned College Green in the centre of the city into a quagmire.

She even got a police escort in an electric car, for heaven’s sake. What if one of those children was a ‘super-spreader’ carrying the coronavirus? Then we’d have a real epidemic on our hands.

I am not suggesting that we ignore the threat, even though my natural inclination is to ridicule the predictable knee-jerk reaction to these health scares, but surely we are entitled to a bit of common sense from those making decisions – or is that too much to ask?

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