25 Mar 2013 at 14:29
I agree with Iain Dale and James Forsyth that yesterday’s Boris car crash is by no means a fatality. Yet.
The trouble is that if you couple it with the documentary screened tonight and the Sonia Purnell hatchet job it means that the journalistic gloves will be off. Her Majesty’s Press have been eying Boris as sharks eye a playful dolphin performing tricks to amuse an adoring public. As a potential meal. But now that blood has been spilt the political sea will be teeming with black dorsal fins eager to move in for the feast. The nearer Boris gets to his goal the more persistent, vicious and unrelenting the questions will become. Expect a daily mail piece from Purnell and a revamp of her book. And that Boris bating will soon become a national sport.
But enough of Boris. The Lin Homer story is a much more interesting tale. The Home affairs Select Committee report of incompetence and dissembling will send shock waves through the the palaces of the Mandarins. In private sector job any whiff of serious incompetence automatically leads to a P.45. And if Parliament is granted the power to veto senior civil servant appointments the comfy, secure, index linked apotheosis of the dilettantes will be shot to pieces.
It will be music to the ears of Michael Gove, Theresa May and in particular Francis Maude. Maude has been arguing for years that the days of the gifted amateur running departments really ought to come to an end. Shock, horror why not have an education expert running DFE or a defence professional administering the MOD?
Expect a fight back from Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Haywood. Prepare for well sourced leaks rubbishing such proposals and how the cream of the crop of academia will desert to the private sector.
It could get very bloody.
But what is even more fascinating is how LIn Homer has soared effortlessly to the Whitehall stratosphere. I first came across her in 2005 and found her perfectly agreeable. She was the Chief Executive of Birmingham Council and I was parachuted in to represent two Labour councillors accused of electoral fraud. It was the first electoral commission in one hundred years. It was as a result of a petition moved by the splendid John Hemming, now a Lib Dem MP.
It was an eye opener. It exposed the corruption of the postal ballot system which according to the Commissioner, Richard Maurey QC “would have disgraced a banana republic”.
Let me set the scene. My chaps were found in a warehouse in the dead of night in front of a table groaning with postal ballot forms, pens and tipex. As we say in the trade this caused one or two evidential problems. Worse, heads of Asian families were hoovering up votes within their households. And (not connected with my clients) there were accusations that postmen laden with postal ballots had been threatened with having their throats cut if they didn’t hand them over.
It didn’t say a lot about British democracy. It spoke volumes.
But most shocking of all was the utter chaos of the count. The Commissioner remarked that the transportation of voting papers via carrier bags was the “direst folly”. And after the Lib Dems had raised an almighty stink it was discovered that Tesco bags of uncounted votes were discovered in council offices. The Commissioner commented that Lin Homer as Chief returning Officer had “thrown away the electoral rule book”.
Not surprisingly she made a hasty retreat to head up UKBA, which became not just the Wild West of government departments but totally dysfunctional and a menace to national security. It was affectionately known as Allah UKBA because of the number of dodgy people who were waved through immigration.
But just before this broke Homer jumped ship to become Permanent Secretary at Transport. I am not sure whether she was in charge of the Virgin train franchise fiasco (Euston we have a problem), but off she scuttled to become Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Customs Excise and Revenue.
This really should have Jeremy Haywood asking three questions.
What the fuck?
This little tale is going to run and run. If you can hear strange slurping noises in the background it is Francis Maude licking his lips.