Opinion: John Reid has guts - and he'll need them

When embattled Home Secretary John Reid told the media this week that 'he wasn't a quitter', he would have been well aware that the last minister to utter these words was Peter Mandelson.

But I believe Reid has calculated rather better, realising that even if Tony Blair had any authority left he would find it difficult to sack yet another head of the Home Office.

I hesitate to give Reid advice on his image management, since the last time we met in Westminster he wasn’t exactly pleasant towards me – something to do with me once working for the Chancellor, I think – although we were once Communist Party activists together.

This background has given him the necessary steel, however, and in his confrontation with John Humphrys on Today on Monday morning, he won hands down as usual.

Yet he lacks the natural charm of his predecessor Charles Clarke, who despite being far lesstalented than Reid became NUS president in front of his student contemporary. Clarke had the advantage of being a Labour Party member at that time, but, more crucially, had fewer enemies than Reid.

Like Clarke, Reid may be beginning to realise that he cannot land the top job in the Labour Party, so his new strategy seems to be avoiding getting dumped the moment Gordon Brown takes over. Given that he seems to have spent the last year scheming against the Chancellor, his chances don’t look all that good.

This fact – and the latest in the torrent of recent bad news coming in and out of the Home Office – is why Reid has now been forced to admit that Brown will indeed be his next boss. There is every reason to suspect he has also done a deal with the Chancellor.

Let’s hope for his sake that the next prime minister is better at honouring his deals than the current one.

Given Brown’s blessing, Reid is now feeling free to bring about the long-term changes needed at the Home Office, while admitting that further embarrassments are likely to unfold.

The Sun may ask Reid, ‘Where is your brain’, on its front page, and compare it to the size of a walnut. But who else in the Cabinet would have the guts to respond by presenting the paper’s political editor with a Walnut Whip?

Despite our tiff, I’d argue there are currently few ministers as talented as Reid, and even fewer who could handle the media as robustly as he does.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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