Friday, March 24, 2006

From Brackley to the Lincolnshire coast

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News.

Home truths

Evenin’ all. We’ve had a nasty gang in Dock Green this week: Jumbo Clarke and his henchmen. That’s Mauler Mactaggart, Nasty McNulty, Andy “The Card” Burnham and Asbo Blears. (There’s also Paul Goggins, but he’s too boring to have a nickname.)

Thank you, PC Dixon. Home office questions made it clear why Charles Clarke keeps that crew round him. They are the only people in the Commons who make him look good by comparison.

Take Tony McNulty. When it comes to being rude, not even Clarke can compete. On Monday he accused Julian Brazier of confusing six different aspects of government policy. And he greeted Nick Clegg’s first question as Lib Dem shadow home secretary with: “As ever, the honourable gentleman … is wrong. He should read things other than the Guardian and get a life.”

That made Charles Clarke sound almost reasonable when he announced plans to merge police forces. Here in the East Midlands, for instance, he wants to combine five into one force covering everywhere from Brackley to the Lincolnshire coast.

Clarke took the first questions of this restructuring, but left the rest to Hazel Blears. It was she who deployed what the home office sees as its clinching argument. Forces must “be certain that they can cope with increased threats from serious and organised crime, and can counter terrorism”.

Never mind traditions of local accountability and mistrust of an overmighty state: whisper the word “terrorism” and we are supposed to throwaway everything we believe in. The problem with today’s world is not that terrorists believe in their cause so strongly: it’s that the democracies’ belief in theirs is so weak.

Just as McNulty makes Clarke look civilised, Blears and Andy Burnham makes him look like an intellectual. For, at the same time as defending her slaughter of county police forces, Blears was insisting on the importance of neighbourhood policing.

And when John Barrett asked Burnham how the government would accommodate the Scottish Executive’s wish not to use identity cards for access to devolved services, he rambled on about how popular the “biometrics roadshow” had proved with the public.

So that’s the home office view. If only we could abolish all these counties and national parliaments, the government would be able to make local accountability work.

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