How politics works



‘Earned’ would not have been my verb of choice here but this is the angle being pursued in today’s Daily Telegraph as it develops the story that 160,000 asylum seekers have won the right to stay in the UK as a result of UK Border Agency (UKBA) incompetence.

Lin Horner, who until January this year was Chief Executive of UKBA, was on a salary of £208,000 pa and, in addition, received several bonus payments (for those unfamiliar with the concept of bonus payments to bankers and bureaucrats, they are what you and I call the P45 but without all that messy business of having to lose your job, salary or pension. You also receive anything between a few thousand and a few million pounds to compensate you for the stigma of being treated unequally, which, as we know, is in contravention of your human rights). Ms Horner was the first ever Chief Executive of UKBA which was formed in 2008 but prior to this she had been Director-General of UKBA’s forerunner, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate since 2005.

The article goes on to say:

More than 160,000 people have been allowed to stay as part of an attempt to clear a backlog of 450,000 cases, first discovered in 2006, while up to another 75,000 may never be traced because of the time lapse (my emphasis)

And Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee which was investigating the issue, said:

The problem with the UK Border Agency, which predates this government, is a lack of administrative control.

So Ms Horner has presided over this mess – which has been caused by a lack of administrative control – from the start. In which case, why was she allowed to remain in place and why was she paid more than the Prime Minister? And before we all shout in unison, “New Labour”, why did the Coalition permit the promotion of this obviously incompetent woman to the post of permanent secretary at the Department for Transport? Anybody answering with the suggestion that it’s because our transport policy cannot possibly be made worse clearly doesn’t understand the ingenuity of the British political system.

Damian Green, who as Immigration Minister has successfully managed to evaporate all sympathy held for him since his politically-inspired arrest in 2008, claimed that the role of Chief Executive at UKBA was “one of the more difficult jobs” in Whitehall. Brain surgery is difficult, coal-mining is difficult, educating classes of 30+ bored kids is difficult; sitting at a desk, being pampered by minions for £200,000 a year while failing to satisfy your Agency’s raison d’etre can be done by any fool.

The reality is that yet again, Ms Horner was not up to the job: one of the questions from yesterday’s blog re-arises – was she there on merit, or because she was a party apparatchik or because she filled some politically correct quota?

However, my primary interest in blogging this story is not Ms Horner but the general question of preferment. Here, for example, we have this further comment about the Horner issue from Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee:

They are stuffing these civil servants’ pockets with bonuses. It is rewarding failure rather than success.

Now, you and I might think the pocket-stuffing comment a bit rich coming from a man who, amongst other things, claimed £75,000 in expenses to fund a Westminster flat to spare him the 37 minute tube journey to his family home 12 miles away. Similarly, when weighing up the matter of rewarding performance, you may wonder about the general murk that has surrounded Vaz’s political career;

  • failure to register his paid employment at the Leicester Law Centre when he first entered Parliament in 1987;
  • failure to register a donation from the Caparo group in 1993;
  • failure to register two payments worth £4,500 in total from solicitor Sarosh Zaiwalla (whom he later recommended for a peerage);
  • accused of blocking the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’ investigation into eighteen of allegations of financial wrongdoing against him;
  • colluding with his wife to conceal payments made to his wife’s law firm by the Hinduja brothers who were seeking UK citizenship;
  • giving misleading information to the Standards and Privileges Committee about his financial relationship to the Hinduja brothers;
  • found to be in contempt of the House and suspended from the House of Commons for one month after making false allegations against a policewoman, Eileen Eggington;
  • failure to declare an interest when he intervened in an official investigation into the business dealings of a close friend, solicitor Shahrokh Mireskandari;
  • as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, accused of privately seeking the views of Gordon Brown and Lord Falconer with regards to a Select Committee report on 48 day detention – in contravention of Parliament’s standing orders that the chairman of a Select Committee cannot take evidence from a witness without at least two other committee members being present;
  • in May 2007, after claiming expenses for service and council tax on his Westminster flat (see above), he switched his designated second home to his constituency office and claimed expenses for new furniture.

How on earth does a man like this rise to become Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee? Is it because he was the best man for the job, carefully selected for his fine sense of judgement, his propriety, his commitment to regulation and the upholding of the rule of law? Or was he, too, another placeman or another quota appointment?

We’ll never know the answer to that question because, unusually, Mr Vaz was annointed appointed by Harriet Harman, then Leader of the House of Commons. It was unusual in that members of select committees are usually proposed by the Committee of Selection who had cancelled their meeting earlier in the week of Vaz’s appointment having been advised that there was no business to transact.

It appears that the only barrier to rising far and fast in government is to be competent and in possession of an exemplary record. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who took Vaz to task was Elizabeth Filkin. She was on a three year contract and, for some reason, was obliged to reapply for her post when her contract came up for renewal. She was not re-appointed.

To most of we mere mortals, she appears to have done a difficult job in difficult circumstances: I’m not sure I would have had her integrity or strength of purpose in that position. Perhaps Damian Green should appoint her to that ‘difficult’ vacancy at UKBA?

This entry was posted in Adventures in Time Travel, Big Brother, Immigration Policy, Justice system, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How politics works

  1. Katabasis says:

    Great post as usual!

    You might be interested in my own experiences, working for IND.

    • I remember reading this post before! And I laughed out loud (with incredulity) over your line about the fire exits – just as I did before!

      It’s a great piece that I’ve now bookmarked to reference as I keep meaning to do a piece from the user’s pov.

      And thanks for the compliment!

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