Friday, July 17, 2009

Jacqui Smith Interview: 'I Want My Cabinet Job Back'

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for TOTAL POLITICS. The interview seems to have created quite a stir in the media over the last 24 hours. Here are a couple of excerpts...

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...

Wouldn't they?

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.


Anonymous said...

No sympathy for this woman whatsoever.

Jacqui - if you read this - we don't believe you.

Everyone else -

Anonymous said...

"In the unlikely event that Labour wins the next election, would you want to go back into government?

Thanks Jacqui, that should be enough to stop a few million potential Labour voters!


TrueBlueBlood said...

Class insight.

Enjoyed that.

She came across well. Started to like her during the end!

Richard Abbot said...

An object lesson for everything that is wrong with this Labour government, at least she's honest!
The problem surely is the man that appointed her?

Demetrius said...

Jacqui is much missed, every comedy act needs a fall guy, and she made a wonderful job of it.

Doctor Fang said...

I understand that she didn't regret buying the bathplug at least.
"I'll have you know that until I bought that bathplug Mr Smith was getting very angry because the water kept on running out of the bath... and what's more it happened just when he'd got all the soap on! If that isn't worth 88p of taxpayer money, what is!!!??!"

EdinburghSteve said...

As much as I hate to say it, she actually comes across as quite human in the interview. Flawed, certainly, but human.

Excellent interviewing style, Iain.

It's good sometimes to remember that these people we mock and beat up in the media are actually real people with families and family lives. Ok, they make mistakes and of course they should be held to account for them, but I like the way you address the obvious issues, but without being overly nasty about it.

Anonymous said...

Farewell Jacqui. If nothing else, you were a quality entertainer.

The porn politician tag will forever hang upon you. And the expenses scandal may mean you might even lose your seat. What was your majority again?

Anonymous said...

I think it was pretty obvious to at least 95% of the British public that she had never run a large organisation.

The Purpleline said...

Have to admit Iain; I cannot understand why you never asked her if her IQ matched her Bra size.

She is a numpty pure and simple in any other career she would have been lucky to progress to a Cashier in a bank or supervisor in a Tesco.

The failed school mam who was just a radical politico and a complete waste of space.

Going further I saw Hutton on the daily politics on Wednesday, useless on a subject he should have known 'Defence' he could not answer simple questions.

I believe before any MP gets to be on the ballot paper they must produce a CV and give a comprehensive non-political interview and then and only then should they be finally selected.

If this is, democracy that gets these imbeciles elected then I believe we should call for the Taliban to come and save us here.

That is a joke by the way but you get the irony of our failed politicians believing teaching a six-year-old girl is important when in the real world they continue to mess up and bankrupt the country.

I dare say there is a lamppost with her name on it.

Penfold said...

She might want her job back with all the perks and dosh that goes with it,
Does anyone want the silly tart back?
This sad and deluded fairy clearly did not think through the results of her actions, which to my mind means she's no bloody good.
Begone and don't sully our paths again.

She doesn't get it said...

She may wish to have her job back, but I would like my civil liberties back first.

Neil Ward said...

Mr Dale will you be returning to your radio show this week.

Iain Dale said...

Neil, thanks for asking. Unfortunately they have told me there is going to be a 2-3 week wait until the studio is ready. It's a shame, but there's nothing i can do about it. Will announce when it will restart, but it may not be until September now.

Herr Fang said...

How Penfold can refer to Fraulein Schmidt as a 'fairy' i do not know. Fairies flutter around elegantly on their diaphanous wings sprinkling fairy dust over everything and everyone.
Is there any specific evidence that the Fraulein did any such thing?
(Yeah, yeah, we know that she claimed the fairy dust on expenses etc...)

Glyn H said...

I am utterly appalled by that extract – it shows that Mr Brown appoints people to senior ministerial office who are not fit to be more than local councillors. Cometh the hour cometh the Jobsworth Ainsworth is the latest such. And his goats can’t hack it even if they have some observable intelligence – unlike Smith and Ainsworth.

The incompetence and malevolence of this administration make it the worst democratic Britain has even seen.

Lola said...

Useless, as bent as a staple and with no clue at all. Completely inadequate for the jobs she took on. And she thinks she is capable of being Home Sec. Give me stregth.

Peanut Smuggler said...

Easy come, easy go, so to speak.

If she thought she was remotely qualified or worthy of the post, she wouldn't have walked away from it so easily.

The third most powerful position in the country, filled by a schoolteacher (and let us not forget GNVQ coordinator) from Redditch. Her appointment so eloquently demonstrates to the electorate the contempt in which they are held by New Labour.

If she achieved anything, it was playing a large part in ensuring the Labour party won't get anywhere near Government for at least 10 years.

Joe Public said...

Any positive comments been posted (anonymously) yet, by Mr Jaqui Smith?

Unsworth said...

"I want my job back"

Why? And why does she believe she deserves it back?

It's all 'me, me, me' stuff, innit? A gross, self-serving and profoundly self-satisfied moron. What good has she done? Just take a cold hard look at her shamefully incompetent performance as Home Secretary. Is that a record of achivement? Is it something which can be viewed with pride? What has she actually done for this country?

This woman is and was a complete waste of space. By her own account everything was completely beyond her. She might just possibly have been some use if she'd remained as a sort of Teaching Assistant in a Comp. She has been promoted to High Office of State purely on the basis of her grovelling servile support of Brown. Is that any qualification at all?

Very Anonymous Person said...

I think that she is the most outstanding politician of her generation. When Labour gets in at the next election as it definitely will, I want Gordon Brown to give her several cabinet posts including Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary. She could do all of these jobs with her hands tied behind her back, and I hope that she will very soon after become Prime Minister for Life and even Saint Jacqui!

Alan Johnson said...

At least I can now leave the toilet seat up in the Home Office.

Anonymous said...

Iain take a look at this:-

Has she gone completely mad!!!

Iain Dale said...

Er, yes, that's from my interview with her!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Ian I read the Daily Mail interview this morning and just briefly read your interview in Total Politics. Jacqui please make up your mind!!! I suppose she just wants a cabinet job, but not the Home Secretary!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Good interview, Iain.

She does come across well, and there's part of me that wishes you could be a bit more 'heavy-handed' with your interviewees. I mean Ken Livingstone came across as a near-saint! That said, i guess if you were as rude as i'd like you to be, you wouldn't find anyone else to interview!

In that sense, i think you do well at challenging them enough, and asking the uncomfortable questions, but still giving them a chance to come across as humans.

A fine line that i think you tread pretty well!

Keith Elliott said...

Any comments On Tim Kirkhope's statement today, Mr Dale? He seems to be trying to defend the indefensible and frankly his comments about Alf Garnett et al, are completely ludicrous and entirely miss the point of what those programmes were actually about!

The Tories can keep saying they are gay friendly but their actions shout out an entirely different message.

I'm interested to know, and this is the third time I've asked this question on your blog, which of the pro-equality gay rights legislation passed over the past 12 years would be on the statute book if the Tories had been in power?

Keith Elliott said...

Also, meant to say, really good interview btw. Thanks!

Houdini said...

I stopped reading this vacuous drivel almost immediately when you asked '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?'

There was always a career path, especially in the Home Office where the convention was always that a QC or such would be made Home Secretary. Until Labour took over in 1997 of course when various defectives, mental and physical, and menially qualified lackeys have held the post.

Same for most other senior posts.

You should be pointing out to this instead of making the point for Labour that they are unqualified for much of Government and need training; this revelation is insulting to the UK after 12 years of their utter incompetence and you shouldn't feed them.

labour for the few said...

its the system innit.

nothing to do with incompetent ministers.arrogant to the end.

we are counting the days to the election when we never see these people again.

Anonymous said...

I found the paragraph about the terrorist car bombs really worrying as I didn't realize, there was an amateur in charge. I assume that the civil servants and police knew what they were doing.

Cha said...

One of us is completely mad, and I don't think it is me. This stupid woman has just gone on the record saying, "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..."

Isn't the whole idea that we have members of parliament who can be made home secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, or whatever, because they already have the skills to do those jobs? We don't want school leavers, postmen, schoolteachers and other low ranking individuals running our country. This ludicrous woman has just admitted that the cabinet is full of people without the necessary skills to perform these roles. Of course we all knew that, but I cannot believe she has just publicly admitted it. Quite mad.

Verity said...

When will the ban on democratically and legally elected Dutch MP Geert Wilders be lifted? Did ol' Jackie ever explain why a democratically elected representative of an ally and fellow EU country should have been banned from entering Britain?

By which I mean, did she ever give one reason why this panicky act was not an act of craven cowardice?

Cynic said...

The problem you face Jacqui is that if it was rational and based upon selction by ability you would never have been there in the first place