Reid jeopardises the fight against terrorism

Guest blogger Sunny accuses John Reid of jeopardising the fight against terrorism and calls on the h

It should be accepted wisdom by now that however liberal or progressive an MP may be, as soon as they are made Home Secretary they start spouting the most vile of Daily Mail editorials with gusto only Richard Littlejohn can muster.

Only in March John Reid was accused by Jon Cruddas MP of a "race to the bottom" for trotting out the typically misinformed and xenophobic diatribe that "foreigners" (was that any immigrants, illegal immigrants or asylum seekers?) of "stealing our benefits" (most are deliberately not allowed to work). Typically, all he did was add to the current confusion around the issue.

And then there are his constant warnings of "devastating consequences" of a terrorist attack, while he simultaneously warned against "scaremongering" on the nature of the threats. Typical.

But crunch-time for Reid has surely come over the alleged leaks from his own department over the recent terrorist raids. To briefly summarise: during the nine arrests in February of men who allegedly wanted to behead a Muslim soldier in the British army, journalists were briefed by an aide to Reid over the nature of the raids.

The Prime Minister rejected an independent inquiry on the basis that "as far as [he] was aware" there had been no leaks from ministers or civil servants. Except that many in the media already know this to be rubbish. So who will break ranks and reveal the culprit?

The Guardian investigation found that, “an aide to John Reid, the home secretary, was responsible for one of those leaks”.

Although the right of journalists to receive and report from anonymous sources must be protected, these breaches of confidence are an entirely different problem. As deputy-commissioner Peter Clarke pointed out last week, they compromised investigations, revealed sources of life-saving intelligence and "put lives at risk" during major investigations.

Even worse, wild speculation in the media, which was perhaps best illustrated during the Forest Gate raids, dents the confidence that British Muslims place with the police and intelligence services. And that, as Clarke pointed out, made it more difficult for the police to cooperate with those it needs to fight terrorism.

The leaks cannot be characterised as anything other than a gross act of unprofessionalism. Clarke rightly said the people responsible should be "thoroughly ashamed" of themselves. Since the buck stops with John Reid at the Home Office, who is likely to have had some knowledge of the leaks, why shouldn't he be held culpable?

It beggars belief that the Home Secretary should be allowed to get away with jeopardising the fight against terrorism for the sake of political expediency. We need a proper investigation into the issue. And it is time he stepped down.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.