In the wake of the Damian Green affair a consensus seems to be emerging (or, more accurately, confirmed) that Jacqui Smith is overpromoted, cloddish and not up to the job of home secretary. Her robotic performance on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, following on from the distinctly luke-warm response to her confusing proposals for changing the prostitution laws, has reminded people just how unattractive a political personality she is. But it was not always thus. When she was first appointed in 2007 much was made of her Middle England credentials, her air of matronly commonsense, even her generous enbonpoint, as being ideal qualities in a future leader. It didn't last long, as her shortcomings soon became obvious. Yet just a few months ago, as Gordon Brown seemed to so many bandwagon-jumping hacks to be irretrievably doomed, her stock was rising again. This was Nick Robinson on 3rd June this year, shortly after she had given a barnstorming performance in the Commons debate over 42 days detention (remember that?):
Last night in the lobby, some even dared think whether our Jacqui might be the next leader that Labour is looking for. Who better, goes the theory, than a straight-talking Midlands mum, an Aston Villa season ticket holder, who still holidays in a caravan in North Wales to take on the Tory toff Cameron.
Labour's electoral system tends to favour women. Look at Harriet Harman's surprisingly good performance in the deputy leader contest. Now, of course, as Labour ministers keep telling me there are now no vacancies but expect the name of Smith to join those of Millibands and Purnell, Straw and Johnson in the list of candidates to succeed Gordon after he stands down or maybe after he's pushed.
The piece was headed Premier Performance? Some of the lobby fodder who'd been feeding the BBC's political editor his lines were describing her speech as "the best ministerial performance in the past year or two". Which perhaps says something about the low quality of Parliamentary performances in recent years.
Nick Robinson wasn't alone. Here is the Telegraph's Philip Hennessy in response:
I agree with Nick Robinson's assessment that Jacqui Smith deserves to feature in any speculation about who might succeed Gordon Brown. In fact, I agree so strongly I put her in when The Sunday Telegraph last did its look at the runners and riders (25 May - but not on line - sorry)....If Labour is to start seriously winning back Middle England votes it needs more performers like Smith.
A month or so later she overreached herself with a silly suggestion that those guilty of knife-crime (remember that?) should be made to visit stabbing victims in hospital, and it seemed to be all over. Benedict Brogan in the Mail (or perhaps it was the headline writer) annointed her "blunderwoman" and commented,
Faced with the smoking wreckage of Jacqui Smith's bungled knife crime announcement, it is difficult to see quite how she could ever have been tipped as a future Prime Minister.... Why, after racking up an impressive array of blunders, U-turns and political disasters, she continues to seduce so many in her party remains a mystery.
Indeed. But I doubt she's finished yet. She has determination, shamelessness and a hide like a rhinoceros, qualities that tend to assure success in an outfit like New Labour as readily as they did in Haringey social services.