WHO was the last successful Home Secretary? Certainly not John Reid, Charles Clark, David Blunkett, Michael Howard...Very few, if any, Home Secretaries emerge from their time at the Home Office with an enhanced reputation. The best any can hope for is that his (or her) career has not been ruined beyond repair. That has been true for a long time and the administrative complexities of large-scale immigration have made it even truer.
Jacqui Smith, facing her first crisis as Home Secretary, over revelations that security staff in sensitive positions might be illegal immigrants, made the best of a bad job in her statement yesterday. She tried to learn the lesson from Charles Clark's experience; faced with the release of a large number of foreign prisoners before they had been considered for deportation, he decided to be open about a serious error but admitted he didn't know the scale of it; he asked for time but found no sympathy in the media or at No 10.
Ms Smith was in a similar position and chose to establish the facts before making any announcement; however, this seems to have taken a long time during which she received poor advice from her press office that the story would not get positive treatment in the media. How could it at any time? Another lesson Ms Smith should learn is that leaks to the media from Whitehall are now an established fact of ministerial life and she should always work on that assumption.