Political Editor Jonathan Walker watches Jacqui Smith face MPs in her first Commons appearance since a string of disasters struck the Home Office
A lot has happened since the last time Jacqui Smith stood up in the House of Commons.
Top copper Bob Quick revealed plans to arrest terror suspects by flashing documents to the cameras as he walked into Number Ten – and resigned the next day.
Police were caught on film taking out their frustrations on demonstrators during the G20 Summit.
And the Crown Prosecution Service decided there would be no proceedings against Damian Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman arrested for receiving embarrassing leaks from a civil servant.
But Ms Smith, the Redditch MP and home secretary, had come to talk about just one of those issues – Mr Quick’s terror case, and the 12 arrests hurriedly carried out after his inadvertent security breach.
Under Commons rules, the rest was supposed to be off limits. Fat chance.
The story Ms Smith wanted to sell was a crackdown on bogus colleges, which exist solely to help would-be visitors from countries such as Pakistan to obtain student visas.
She ended with a chilling warning. “The threat level to the United Kingdom from international terrorism is still assessed as severe. A terrorist attack is considered highly likely.”
The idea was to establish her as a serious statesman, doing her job while the Tories focused on personalities – a bit of pre-emptive damage control.
Chris Grayling, the Conservative shadow home secretary, wasn’t having it. With Mr Green sat beside him, he complained: “This should have been a statement where the house could ask her why her department made wildly exaggerated claims about leaks of national security, which led to the utterly unjustified arrest – the stuff of police states, not democracy.”
Ms Smith took the high road, attacking her opposite number for “talking about me rather than the issue”. But Tories backbenchers insisted: “You are the issue”. One shouted gleefully: “You’re for the chop”.
Perhaps the Labour backbenchers would be more helpful? Birmingham MP Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) did her best, with a serious question about cooperation between Britain and Pakistan to close down fake educational institutions.
But then Kate Hoey (Lab Vauxhall) had to lower the tone, asking how the police could concentrate on fighting terrorism when they were busy rounding up opposition MPs.
And Black Country MP David Winnick (Lab Walsall North) wanted something down about the violence seen in London during the G20.
“We have seen outright police brutality,” he warned.
Michael Martin, the Speaker, was quick to shut Mr Winnick up. “He’s totally out of order,” the Speaker warned. However much Ms Smith might wish it, these issues aren’t going to go away.