Monday, 22 December 2008

The winter madness of Bob-be-Quick

You don't normally expect collective insanity to strike in the middle of winter, somehow it is usually a consequence of prolonged exposure to the blazing summer sun. I speak, of course, about the acts of all parties in the matter of Bob Quick. Mr Quick is a senior anti-terrorist policeman and is in charge of the investigation into the leaking of little bits of inconsequential information to the Conservative MP Damian Green. At the weekend a newspaper disclosed where he lives. This information was already freely available but Mr Quick decided it put his life in peril and panicked. He is reported to have claimed the publication of his address was the result of a spiteful and corrupt plot by "the Tory machinery and their press friends" to intimidate him into dropping the enquiry into how Mr Green received the leaked information.

Yesterday he withdrew the allegation of corrupt behaviour and today he used a most extraordinary phrase in the course of withdrawing his comments and apologising, he said "it was not my intention to make any allegations".

The Conservative Party has formally accepted the apology and said the matter is now closed; Dominic Grieve, the shadow Home Secretary, making sure the depth of Mr Quick's stupidity was exposed by describing his comments as "completely deluded".

The hapless so-called Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, could do no better than say "Bob has retracted some of the things he said over the weekend" and then say that he should get on with the job.

I think they've all gone barmy.

Let's assume that Mr Quick felt in genuine peril for the safety of his family. In that event it is perhaps understandable that he would let his true feelings be known even though more mature judgment would have kept them under wraps. That isn't the point, though, the point is that he said what he really felt. That there was no evidence to support it, thereby forcing him to retract today, does not stop his comment from reflecting what he thinks. Here is one of the most senior police offices in the country who believes the main opposition party has colluded with a newspaper to undermine a police investigation and has expressed that belief in language showing blatant bias against that party. To make matters worse he thinks an apology in which he tells a clear and obvious lie will make things better. The lie, of course, is his assertion that he did not intend to make any allegations. Nothing could be further from the truth. If he didn't intend to make any allegations he would not have used the words he did. What he did not intend to do was make a complete fool of himself and show his bias, but he most assuredly did intend to make allegations.

He intended to allege: (i) spite, (ii) corruption, (iii) collusion between the Conservative Party and a newspaper, (iv) a desire by the Conservative Party and that newspaper to intimidate him and (v) a criminal conspiracy by the Conservative Party and the newspaper to obstruct the course of justice. He intended all those things because you cannot what he said by accident. Either you mean them or you are mad. Giving him the benefit of the doubt in this season of goodwill I will rule out gibbering insanity, which leaves intentional conduct. He intended it every bit as much as I intend to say he is unfit for office when I use the words "he is unfit for office", no other meaning can be intended and there is no scope for it being a slip of the tongue, it is what I genuinely believe just as he genuinely believed what he said yesterday.

The reaction of the Conservatives is equally baffling. How they can say the matter is closed when a senior policeman has shown bias against them is beyond me. To see just how baffling it is all we have to do is pretend the Conservatives are in government and that Mr Quick was investigating leaks to a Labour MP, what would happen if he alleged that the Labour Party spitefully and corruptly colluded with a newspaper to intimidate him and obstruct his investigation? The answer is obvious, there would be outrage led by the BBC and the man's head would be on a metaphorical spike within a week. His attempted apology would be exposed as based on a lie and he would be required to explain how he could have used the words he did if he had not meant them. On it being established that he did mean them he would have to resign for showing blatant party political bias. The Labour Party, in that reverse scenario, would be ill-advised to lead the attack because to do so could be construed as an attempt to frustrate his enquiry, but they would not need to, the BBC would do it for them and before long the government would support the BBC's line. The Conservatives will get no support from the BBC but they should not say the matter is closed when the fitness of Mr Quick to remain in his post is under question.

And that is why Jacqui Smith's position is simply bizarre. She should be saying that it is completely unacceptable for a senior police officer to disclose enmity towards one political party because to do so is contrary to the necessary independence of the police from party politics. Instead she made three monumental blunders, all caused by the simple fact that she is a party functionary who is completely out of her depth in one of the great Offices of State.

The first was to refer to Mr Quick as "Bob". I cannot recall any occasion in which I have heard a Home Secretary refer to a senior police officer in public by an abbreviation of his first name, it's completely and utterly wrong. When they are sharing a cup of pureed tofu while discussing plans to reverse the burden of proof they can call each other "bunnykins" for all I care, but when performing their official functions in public they must keep to surnames or ranks. To do otherwise is to confuse their personal positions with the official duties they have to perform.

Secondly, she said Mr Quick had withdrawn "some" of the things he said. He had, in fact, withdrawn every substantive point he made. There are two equally plausible explanations for her saying he had only withdrawn some. One is that she hadn't bothered finding out exactly what he said yesterday and exactly what he said today. That would be consistent with the incompetence she has shown throughout her time as Home Secretary. The other is that she wanted to keep alight the flame her friend Bob lit yesterday. There could be votes in an allegation that the Opposition were obstructing a police investigation and by saying he had withdrawn some of what he said she keeps alive the possibility of a small party political advantage.

Thirdly, she endorsed Mr Quick in his present post. This is the most bizarre part of all because, not only has he shown party political bias inconsistent with his duty (and particularly inconsistent with him having any further involvement in the leak enquiry), but he has shown himself to be a man capable of panicking under pressure and making serious errors of judgment. He's meant to be in charge of anti-terrorism activities. If ever a job needs a cool head under pressure it is that, yet he shouts off at the mouth with a lunatic conspiracy theory when information in the public domain is spread more widely than he would like. In sensitive areas a single incident of this type always used to be enough to have someone quietly retired to take charge of counting traffic bollards in Cornwall.

Of course hopeless Jacqui cannot distinguish between what is good for her party and what is consistent with her duties as Home Secretary. She knows her friend Bob is anti-Conservative. In her lacklustre brain that means he supports the Labour Party. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't, all he has disclosed is that he is anti-Conservative but she will see that as support for Labour. Her mission, therefore, is to keep him on board. Her duty is to condemn overt party political bias of any kind in the police. I doubt that she knows this but even if she does it will always come a poor second behind promoting her party.

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