On being up to the job...
Do you think it's a weakness of our political system that there is no kind of career path planning at all and that people are plonked into jobs, sometimes for absolutely no reason?
Yes, if I ever describe the process of becoming a minister - moving from one ministerial job to another - to somebody in almost any other job outside they think it is, frankly, pretty dysfunctional in the way that it works. That's not just this government... To be fair, Gordon had talked to me about whether or not I wanted to do a different job but you have to get to a pretty senior position in government - and you have to be pretty powerful as hell - before you can even express a view, let alone expect to influence where you go. I think we should have been better trained. I think there should be more induction. There's more now than when I started as a minister but it's still not enough. I think there should be more emphasis given to supporting ministers more generally in terms of developing the skills needed to lead big departments, for example. When I became Home Secretary, I'd never run a major organisation. I hope I did a good job but if I did it was more by luck than by any kind of development of those skills.
When you were appointed Home Secretary, did you think 'Oh my God, this is the big time now, am I up to this?'
Well, every single time that I was appointed to a ministerial job I thought that, Iain. [laughs] I didn't sleep for a week in 1999 when I got my first ministerial job.
Yes but you admit it. Most politicians wouldn't admit that...
No, I think there is something in a politician's psyche, that it's seen as a bit of a weakness to admit any kind of self-doubt.
Please note, I didn't admit it at the time, though, did I! [laughs]
On her first day in office...
When you first heard on your first day in the job about the terror bombs, what was your first reaction? Apart from 'oh, shit...'
I'm not sure I understood, I'm ashamed to say, when I first heard it, quite how serious it was. When somebody rings you up and they say 'a car has been found in Haymarket and it seems like it might have been set up to explode', your first reaction is 'oh, that's interesting'. You then think 'well, now I'm Home Secretary, so I have responsibility for that'. The point at which I felt a bit of cold run through my veins was on the Saturday in the office when the Jeep ran into Glasgow Airport. Even though we knew that there were other people involved, that they were travelling up to Scotland, at that point you ask yourself, 'how big is this? Are there more? Are they going to be more successful? Is it getting out of control? Do we actually know the extent of what's going on?'
Did you realise that your performance in the media over that 48 hours was going to be absolutely crucial in the way people viewed you as Home Secretary in the future?
No, I was absolutely amazed that they were surprised that I was calm. What did they think I was going to do? Come running out of Downing Street shouting 'don't panic, don't panic!' [laughs]. I did think I've got to get this right because I was the Home Secretary and everybody expected me to know what was going on; be able to explain what we were doing to keep them safe. That was the mindset that I started the job with and though that was tested over the weekend, it didn't feel difficult at the time - I wasn't going to start screaming or crying or saying it was all too difficult.
Why do you think Gordon Brown appointed you?
I think he wanted someone who he felt was able to communicate in a reasonably down-toearth way about issues that really are up among the top three that people are concerned about, like crime and immigration. I think he wanted - and he was right to want this, incidentally - women right at the very top of government. I hope he trusted me and thought I would be loyal and supportive and I think I have been.
On bathplugs and porn videos...
Would you say that the last few months have been the worst of your political career? Has there been any time in the last few months when you've thought, why do I bother?
Yes, in the middle of the night, most nights. If your reputation and family life and career were being dragged through the mud then you wouldn't be a human being if you didn't lose sleep over it.
Describe on a human level what it is like being at the centre of a media storm, not just for a few days but for a sustained period.
Horrible. It's probably even worse for the people around you, because while I was still Home Secretary I was reasonably cocooned. You've got a job to get on with, you've got civil servants and advisers around you and, because you're Home Secretary, you don't generally - though I sometimes still did - go to the supermarket an awful lot. However, you can't open a newspaper without seeing stories about yourself. I think the scale of it was brought home to me when I was sat one night with my sister. I said that it had been an awful day, and I didn't want to watch the news. Instead, we turned over to the comedy quiz programme chaired by John Sergeant, which started with 'welcome to the programme where people get sticky and uncomfortable, just like Jacqui Smith's husband'. I can laugh about it now but it was one of those moments when I thought that I wouldn't ever get away from it. I felt I would have it hung around my neck, and that's part of the reason why I had to resign. The other thing that was deeply frustrating about it was that I knew the things we needed to do as a government in order to stand a chance of winning the next election: which were convince people that we can tackle crime and antisocial behaviour and that we could control immigration. That's the job of the Home Secretary and that's what the Prime Minister wanted me to do, particularly in terms of being able to get out and talk to people. I couldn't do that because every time I did interviews I had to spend two-thirds of the time talking about expenses.
Had all that not happened then you would still be Home Secretary. You wouldn't have resigned, would you?
That's a pretty heavy price to pay. To a person in the street it was ludicrous that you were claiming your home in Redditch as a second home.
I had a choice in the matter but I had followed the rules. I had sought advice. I had lived with my sister since 1997. I wasn't in a box room up the top of the house with a shelf in the fridge if I was lucky - it wasn't as it was characterised.
No, but your main home has to be where your husband and kids are. It's just logic, isn't it?
Well, this is the interesting thing. I thought it was strange that you could have a main home that wasn't where your family lived. That was why I wrote to the fees offi ce to ask if they could clarify for me that your main home isn't where your kids live. The other problem with that, of course, is that I did have to make a decision. So when I became a minister, my husband and I sat down and we discussed the fact that I was going to be spending all this time in London. I did then make the explicit decision that my main home was going to be different to where our family home was. I stuck by the rules, I never flipped. I thought that I had done the right thing both by the spirit, and by the letter, of the rules. Hopefully within the next few weeks the commissioner will determine whether or not I was...
But you did commit the heinous crime of buying an 88p bath plug. Is that something you bitterly regret and have apologised to the nation for?
Somebody, an MP who is also an accountant, said to me the other day 'what the hell were you doing putting in such detailed receipts?' I thought it was a good idea to be transparent, putting in the receipts which of course included that 88p bath plug...
When you found out about this film package did you think 'that's it'?
Can I ask you what you said to your husband?
'I'm going to have to resign' was the first thing I said. I then had to go into a meeting which was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. However, it was the Friday before the G20 and people said to me - not the Prime Minister, you understand - that they didn't think the Prime Minister or the government were going to thank me for resigning just before the G20 which was so important for the government and so important for the Prime Minister. That and I suppose a certain amount of inertia meant that I didn't resign at that particular point, but it more than crossed my mind, I have to say. I felt the situation would be exactly as it is, which is that people would be sympathetic to me but they would always remember it, and that this would make it difficult for me to get on with the job that I needed to do.
What does the future hold for you? You have a very marginal seat, and if the polls are right, you're stuffed. You're definitely standing then?
You wouldn't be human if you didn't contemplate defeat...
Well, I've contemplated defeat at every election since 1997. It's a pretty straightforward Labour-Tory marginal that becomes more difficult in the next election because of boundary changes, so I have always operated on the basis that the next election will be my last. To that extent it's nothing new. I'm not out applying for jobs, put it that way, because you've got to be in it to win it.
In the unlikely event that Labour wins the next election, would you want to go back into government?
You can read the full interview HERE.