Yes, we have no bananas
There’s nothing worse for an employee than thinking your boss is out to get you. That must be the feeling among some of the top officials at the Home Office after John Reid gave himself 100 days to clear out the chaos that is his department. He’s already removed one top bureaucrat from his post after being obliged to apologise to MPs for claiming the 22 most serious foreign prisoners were all in custody when actually a murderer, a rapist and a paedophile are all out on bail.
No wonder he told MPs the Home Office had "inadequate" leadership and management systems. It was "dysfunctional" and "wholesale transformation" was "probably" needed. One of those looking over her shoulder may be Lin Homer, who rejoices in the grand title of Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (salary £200,000 a year).
Ms Homer is best remembered in these parts as the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council where her claim to fame was that a judge said she “threw the rule book out of the window” during the postal vote fraud crisis. That meant crooked politicians were able to perpetrate a fraud so bad that, according to a judge, it would “disgrace a banana republic”.
She left Birmingham after just two and a half years to get the top job dealing with our illegal immigration crisis. She’s just seen her boss sacked – sorry, moved to a key strategic role within the Home Office – in Mr Reid’s mini re-shuffle. Out went Tony McNulty and in came Liam Byrne as Immigration Minster.
There are, doubtless, many reasons why, in Gorbals die-hard John Reid’s words, the Home Office is “not fit for purpose”. But while we’re examining them, it is surely worth asking whether there is anything to learn from the Birmingham vote-rigging scandal.
Ms Homer’s time in Birmingham was marked by a judicial investigation into postal vote fraud in six seats won by Labour in 2004. Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC, ordered elections to be re-run in two wards and warned last year’s General Election would also be blighted by fraud. He said: “The system is wide open to fraud and any would-be political fraudster knows that.” He said there was evidence of a “vote-rigging factory” responsible for "massive, systematic and organised fraud”.
When the Government said there was nothing to worry about, he responded: "Anybody who has sat through the case I have just tried and listened to evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic would find this statement surprising." During the investigation, Ms Homer was accused of failing to discharge her duties in accordance with electoral law. Judge Mawrey said she "threw the rule book out of the window" to deal with overwhelming numbers of postal vote application forms received.
The judge complained: "Postal ballot packages are sent out by ordinary mail in clearly identifiable envelopes. Short of writing 'Steal Me' on the envelopes, it is hard to see what more could be done to ensure their coming into the wrong hands." In her defence, Ms Homer denied responsibility, claiming she was only in "strategic, not operational control". Her role was confined to "motivational management and fire fighting".
She left Birmingham soon after last year’s General Election when fears of fraud again surfaced. But Ms Homer calmed our fears by declaring that “virtually all” the 39,000 postal votes received were genuine. Note the use of the word “virtually” here. Note also that the city council issued 59,000 postal votes and only received back 39,000. What happened to the other 20,000? Who can tell? Certainly not Ms Homer.
Her relaxed approach to these things seems to be ideally-suited to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. It was one of Ms Homer’s staff, the “head of removals” David Roberts, who told MPs last week he hadn’t got the "faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants there were in the country.
He said no effort was made to trace individual illegal immigrants, unless they were thought to pose a threat to national security. Instead, resources were targeted on firms who employ illegal immigrants.
The committee was also told that applicants were given National Insurance numbers without anyone bothering to check their immigration status. Until recently Ms Homer’s department was itself employing five illegal immigrants from Nigeria to do the cleaning. One of her immigration officials has been suspended over claims he offered to help a teenage asylum seeker with her application in return for sex. Interestingly, Ms Homer used to tell a story about the day she met an exhausted woman on the train who’d been mugged and had her handbag stolen.
The victim complained that everything wrong with this country was caused by asylum seekers. Instead of offering sympathy over the robbery, Ms Homer gave her a lesson in politically-correct thinking, warning her against "such a strong and inappropriate set of views". I reckon Ms Homer will survive the Home Office purge. In her spare time she was a member of a New Labour think-tank “commission” set up to boost the ludicrous plan for “city regions” like Greater Birmingham.
An immigration system to disgrace a banana republic, anybody?
Nigel Hastilow http://nigelhastilow.blogspot.com/