By Joshua.Chambers

19 Aug 2010

Joshua Chambers finds that the Home Office has pressed ahead quickly with its agenda, announcing many of its plans to Parliament before the summer recess.

The Home Office has been a blur of activity and announcements since Theresa May took over as home secretary. Cuts – to both programmes and budgets – are the cause of this.

The programme cuts are the result of the liberal agenda that unites the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The coalition swiftly axed Labour’s ID card scheme, and announced plans to review 28 days’ detention without trial with the aim of reducing it. The Home Office also pledged to scrap paperwork for police officers, abolishing the policing pledge and a confidence-based target, and limiting reporting requirements for stop and search.

The budget cuts are necessary so that the Home Office can fulfil spending targets set by the Treasury. The most contentious of these are cuts to the police force, which haven’t as yet been set, but are clearly coming. As policing minister Nick Herbert wrote in the Police Review last month: “The police will have to bear their fair share of the reductions in government funding… while we cannot be certain of the numbers, we do know that merely curbing the growth in spending is not going to be enough – there will be budget reductions.”

Reform of the police will go further, with the government seeking to introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners by 2012 and building an enhanced Serious and Organised Crime Agency – to be called the National Crime Agency – which will look at incorporating existing cyber-crime organisations such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and also focus on border controls.

Immigration has been a keystone issue for the Conservative right wing, and consequently a points-based immigration system is due to be introduced, along with a border police force. Other measures that will please the Tory right include proposals
to give councils more powers to tackle underage and binge drinking, after licensing powers were moved across from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport; and a shift in drugs policy, which will now focus on getting addicts off drugs rather than just reducing the harmful effects of drug use.

The ministerial team

It is surprising that things are moving so quickly in the Home Office, given that it was popularly assumed that Theresa May would head up the Department for Work and Pensions after shadowing it in opposition. On top of having to pick up a new brief, May was stalled by accusations of homophobia when an examination of her voting record revealed that she voted against both the repealing of Section 28 and adoption rights for homosexual couples. This prompted a backlash from gay rights groups and did not bode well for her second role: that of minister for equalities and women.

As well as tackling the charges head-on by appearing on BBC panel-show Question Time, May was defended by her junior minister for equality, Lynne Featherstone, who told a newspaper for the homosexual community: “I think she’s moved on, and the rest of the LGBT world needs to catch up.” Featherstone can be a fierce critic on equality issues – even saying she was “very disappointed” by the male-dominated makeup of the cabinet in her first day in government. But the gender balance within the Home Office will have pleased her: of five ministers, three are women.

The third female minister is Conservative peer Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who has had a long career in government – first as a career diplomat and later as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, as well as roles in private business such as chairman of the defence company Qinetiq. As security minister, she now sits on the National Security Council and is pushing for further action against cyber-crime, seeking to boost the UK’s resilience against an increasing threat.

The final two ministers are both Tories: Damian Green has the brief he shadowed in opposition, immigration minister, and comes from the left wing of the Tory party. Nick Herbert is policing minister, shared with the Ministry of Justice, and although he had been heading for a cabinet position until the Conservatives had to enter a coalition, he still has a large brief to tackle in reducing the size of police forces across the country in an equitable manner.

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