Sunday, 19 April 2009

Alas Smith and votes

(Yeah, OK, clumsy title, I know)

News today that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is seeking the release of classified documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster, the 20th anniversary of which was marked this week.

While this is a good thing, it does beg the question, why now? Maybe I'm being cynical, but the move seems to me to have more to do with politics than any desire to shed more light on what happened that day.

Jacqui's in a tight spot, as is the government as a whole. It's typical of the government to deflect attention from their own failings by pandering to populism. Take Harriet Harman's notorious BBC appearance on the subject of Fred Goodwin as an example - Incidentally, Harriet, you explicitly stated that Goodwin wouldn't get to keep his pension. What have you done about that? - Could it be that in seeing Andy Burnham noisily hecked at Wednesday's memorial service, Jacqui saw an opportunity to curry favour in Liverpool, where Labour needs all the help it can get?

She also announced this week that there would be a review of RIPA, with a view to stopping it from being abused by local authorities spying on people to see if they really live where they say they live, or to catch people who don't clean up after their dogs and other such situations. Again, another populist move designed to win favour, this time in middle England.

The release of documents and RIPA review are, taken at face value, a welcome sign that the government is listening, but when viewed in the context of a minister trying to save her job and a government seemingly in terminal decline it's hard to shake the feeling that in reality, these are desperate rolls of the dice by a desperate politician.

NB: It's the budget on Wednesday. If we see some populist flourishes there too we'll know the policy's coming from No.10 and not just Jacqui working on her own initiative.

UPDATE 5.36PM: BBC News is now reporting that South Yorkshire police are reviewing the files relating to Hillsborough off their own bat, rather than at the request of the Home Secretary.

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