Or does she have nothing to lose by staying on?
The newspapers have broken a story that Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, has been claiming Â£500 allowances for living at a house belonging to her sister. The Mail on Sunday claims that she has received Â£116,000 in allowances whilst lodging at her sister’s house. This is in addition to the taxpayer-funded security, which the paper estimates as costing around Â£200,000 per annum.
The Home Secretary’s Special Advisor claims that this arrangement has been cleared with the House of Commons Fees Office, though Guido points out that the Fees Office do not ratify anything – they take (Right) Honourable Members of Parliament at their word.
This is precisely the sort of scandal that the Government can ill-afford after dipping back into the 20s in ICM’s latest poll. This sort of accusation of impropriety could well spell the end of a Cabinet Minister’s career, or at least a temporary resignation before being invited back, but I wonder if the Home Secretary is perhaps able to brazen this affair out.
As has been noted, she stands almost no chance in the eyes of PB.com’s commentators of holding onto her Redditch seat at the next election. Luke Akehurst was adamant that the Labour Party’s rules against Chicken Running (changing seat without boundary changes, to avoid being ousted by voters) made the suggestion on this site last week that she was being lined up for a safe seat in Wolverhampton impossible.
For me, this has always been the reason that Brown wanted her in the job. Unless she moves seats, or goes to the House of Lords, Jacqui Smith has no political future to lose. She is able to take on a politically-toxic agenda of ID cards, 42 days, prison populations, and terror legislation, knowing full well that it has no impact on the likelihood of her losing her seat. She is able to give the PM absolute loyalty, and he has no concerns that she will be squeamish in implementing his agenda, because unlike many of her Cabinet colleagues, she will not be angling for the leadership after Gordon Brown steps down.
Were she to be forced out, I’m not sure who would take the job under Gordon Brown. Charles Clarke and John Reid would surely not be invited back. John Prescott would not be interested, I suspect. Alan Johnson, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Hazel Blears and Hilary Benn all have hopes for the leadership that a promotion to this poisoned chalice might derail. Harriet Harman doesn’t need it, and David Miliband and James Purnell would apparently have quit rather than been moved from their current roles. Jack Straw has done it, Darling is wanted at the Exchequer, and Lord Mandelson would be mad to want it. The only three I could imagine accepting it are John Hutton, Sean Woodward, and Geoff Hoon, but I find it difficult to believe that even loyal Brownites would execute the job as faithfully to the PM’s wishes as the present incumbent.
I honestly believe that Gordon Brown will do everything in his power to protect the MP that he plucked from obscurity and elevated to one of the most powerful jobs in the country. With no prospects in the Commons after the next election, I only wonder whether she is strong enough to resist the calls that will surely be made for her resignation.
And if that occurs? Remember the rule Mike Smithson lives by – if there’s a market in which you can bet on David Blunkett, do so.
UPDATE: StJohn reminds me that several astute punters, following Smithson’s 19th law, have obtained odds of 100/1 or better on David Blunkett. I wish I was one of them.