I first met Jacqui Smith more than ten years ago at a Foreign Office event which she was addressing. I was writing a profile of the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband so was spending the afternoon with him. After her speech he beckoned me over an introduced me to her. Having written a few negative things about her in her job as Home Secretary I was a bit apprehensive, but to her credit she was all smiles and very chatty.

A few months later she had resigned and I approached her to do this interview for Total Politics magazine, which was in its infancy. This is the full, hardly edited it transcript, which is four times longer than the article which was published in TP. We next met in a Sky News studio in 2012 where we struck up an on-screen partnership which lasts to this day. We’ve become good friends and now do quite a bit of broadcasting together as well as our weekly ‘For the Many’ podcast, which seems to have attracted quite a cult following. If you haven’t listened to it, please do! In addition, we’ve co-edited a book together: THE HONOURABLE LADIES: ESSAYS ON WOMEN MPs 1918-1996. Anyway, I think this interview has stood the test of time, but judge for yourself.

Iain: So what’s it like having your freedom back? Jacqui: After 10 years as a minister it’s very strange in one way. The first normal Saturday when I woke up without a red box appearing on my doorstep was very weird but at the same time it’s what I wanted when I made the decision, particularly in terms of being able to spend more time with my kids. All the interesting things I’ve discovered actually is that I always thought that when you were a minister the amount of information that you were given enabled you to have a really good view of what was going on around. Now I understand that actually whilst it does in depth, what you lose as a minister is the breadth of understanding and feel for what is going on, that I’m just very slowly beginning, I hope, to get back. So it’s great, you know, both an intellectual and time freedom that returns.

Jacqui Smith

You’ve been in government since 1999, now you’re not and you have your life back, does it slightly horrify you all the things that you know now that you missed out on while you were a minister? Oh, it doesn’t horrify me, somebody said to me just the other day, ‘if you knew everything that was going to happen to you, including the bad bits in the last 6 months would you still have done it?’ And I said without doubt yes, because it is an experience that you couldn’t possibly have otherwise. It’s an immense honour, if you’re an elected politician, to then be asked to be a minister and particularly asked to be home secretary. It’s a massive honour, it’s the peak of what you could hope to achieve and it’s just a very very interesting job as well, but it is all-consuming. It does take up a hell of a lot of time; it does involve a lot of reading that isn’t perhaps the reading that you would have chosen. So, yes, when I think to myself what have I not been able to do, read normal books, talk to people about issues other than the immediate family and the immediate ministerial which is all you have time to focus on.

Richard Nixon wrote a book called ‘In the Arena’ with the meaning that if you want to change something you can’t just sit on the sideline and pontificate, like the Polly Toynbee’s of this world, you have to get in there, get your hands dirty and do something. Do you get annoyed sometimes with all the commentators, newspapers, television, internet, spreading their words of wisdom, and you’re sitting there thinking, well thanks a lot I actually have to do this? Yes [laughs]. Without doubt. I suppose when I got most frustrated what I thought was well actually perhaps those commentators wouldn’t be able to be in the position I’m in, being able to make changes, being frustrated sometimes that you couldn’t do all of the things that you wanted to do, but nevertheless, however unsatisfactory they were, being able to have your hands on some of the levers which would enable change to happen. When I look back there are things that I’ve been able to actually do, not just comment on. That is the difference between me as a personality and those that would rather comment.

Do you think it’s a weakness of our political system that there is no kind of career path planning at all and that people are plonked into jobs, sometimes for absolutely no reason, it’s just there’s a gap missing and there’s a person there, ‘right let’s stick him in that ministerial job’ and some people get put in the wrong jobs? Yes, if I ever describe the process of becoming a minister, moving from one ministerial job to another to somebody in almost any other job outside they think it is, frankly, pretty dysfunctional in the way that it works. That’s not just this government…

No absolutely, it’s the system… The idea that you have people who have a lot of talent and a lot of experience and different styles but they very rarely have to opportunity to say ‘actually, I think my particular style would be best suited to X or Y,’ is a problem for government. To be fair, Gordon had talked to me about whether or not I wanted to do a different job, what I felt I wanted to do, but you have to get to a pretty senior position in government and you have to be pretty powerful as well before you can even express a view, let alone expect to influence where you go. Now I think I’ve been pretty lucky in my ministerial life. I’ve gone to places and done things that I’ve either had the professional experience of all but linked in with the sort of lessons that I’d learnt in previous ministerial jobs, so its been, with the exception of the time that I spent at the DTI, pretty much what I would call mainstream public service reform type jobs. Therefore I’ve been able to take lessons from one job to another, but I think we should have been better trained, I think there should be more induction. There’s more now than when I started as minister but still not enough. I think there should be more emphasis given to supporting ministers more generally in terms of developing their skills that the leader ought to lead big departments for example. When I became Home Secretary, I’d never run a major organisation, and I hope I did a good job but if I did it was more by luck than by any kind of development of those skills.

Jacqui Smith

When you were appointed as Home Secretary, whoever you are there must be an element of ‘oh my God, this is the big time now, am I up to this?’ Well every single time that I was appointed to a ministerial job I thought that Iain [laughs] I didn’t sleep for a week in 1999…

Yes but you admit it, you see most people wouldn’t admit that… Wouldn’t they?

No I think there is something in a politician’s psyche, that it’s seen as a bit of a weakness to admit any kind of self doubting. Please note, I didn’t admit it at the time though did I! [laughing]

No, well you had a bit of a baptism of fire so it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea! [laughs] Going back to your first job when you first went into government, education, having been a teacher was that the job that you really wanted or did you feel ‘I was only given that as I had been a teacher’? If you had asked me what job I didn’t want it would be to have gone into education and been typecast as an ex-teacher. I had spent a year on the Treasury Select Committee, and I’d done that explicitly because I didn’t want to be typecast as an ex-teacher. Having said that as soon as I started doing it I absolutely loved it, I did find that it was an advantage as a minister to have some knowledge of the system already there because what you’re trying to do is make change, to win people over, then being able to talk a bit of the professional language is helpful.

But then of course, a couple of your colleagues will think you’ve gone native, I know a couple of your colleagues, Gillian Shephard said this to me that she was accused of by her cabinet colleagues of just cow-toeing to the teaching unions. Yes, and I was always very aware of that. And of course it was the time when actually we were working quite hard, as we have done throughout the reviews not to be captured the producer interest, the teachers in that particular case, we did, and that is why we accepted teacher unions as we went along and I think that was the right thing to do. In doing it, it is easier to challenge the producer interested if you are of that in the first place. That was fantastic job, one of the reasons was because of the people I was working with, Minster of State, Estelle Morris, Secretary of State, David Blunkett. That was a fantastic team to be working in and the people taught me an immense amount about what it was to be a minister and how to operate.

It’s an interesting point you make about the team because if you compare that team to some of the ones that there are now, you get the feeling that, and I think this happens to all governments, when they get a certain point, there’s just no one else to promote. I think Gordon Brown’s problem in his last reshuffle was that that meant at the Minister of State level there wasn’t the level of talent that Tony Blair had in those days and this happened to the Conservatives as well in the 1990s. I think it’s part of David Cameron’s problem now in that he can’t change his Shadow Cabinet because frankly there’s no one in the second rank to promote. It’s really vital that you try and nurture talent more than people have done. It’s part of the reason as I said, not only for thinking about how you train people when they become ministers, but perhaps to think about how you develop that talent amongst your back benchers for example, we’ve only ever dipped our toe into the net. When I was Chief Whip it was one of the things I wanted to develop and we were never able to do that, but I think you want to have more of an idea that you are managing your biggest asset, which is your people, in order to keep replenishing the talent. You just don’t do that because it’s a very individualistic thing, there is no idea that actually in your parliamentary party you are managing them, supporting them trying to bring on talent giving people projects to do, the sorts of things that would be basic in any other workplace, succession planning none of that goes on. I’m not naive to think that you could run something from the resources department and people could apply for jobs because it’s politics and what you think and say and who you know will always be influential but I think there is more that we can do than we have done.

Honourable Ladies

You were Chief Whip for less than a year. An interesting year though [laughs]

I would have thought you were the most unlikely Chief Whip in the history of Chief Whippery. Why’s that?

Well, I think you’ve got to be a bit of a bastard and I don’t think of you as being a bit of a bastard. That’s because you take this, and I’m not, incidentally, because you’ve got a very, dare I say it, traditional view of how you manage people.

No, actually I haven’t, but I’ve got a traditional view of what the Chief Whip is. The way that people manage politically? Yeah. The other thing of course is that even if in 1997 it had been possible, and it probably was, to threaten people to offer them jobs as a way of keeping them in control. Actually having experience from 1997, people felt they had to behave if they wanted to get on but that wasn’t the way that Chief Whip Nick Brown actually behaved. However, even if that had been possible in 1997, by the time you get to 2007 it wouldn’t have been. There are too many people who have had a ministerial job and are out of it, not interested, or who are a bit semi-detached from the government. You’ve got to find other ways to handle them. I think the reason Tony Blair asked me to do it was because I had done the education bit, I’d done quite a bit of what was the handling of difficult issues in that, I think that’s why he chose me.

What was the most interesting moment of that period, you were brought in after the aborted coup weren’t you? No. I came in in May 2006.

Oh right, I was thinking it was later. No, May 2006 straight after the local elections when there was that reshuffle, and that itself was a slightly wobbly moment when we hadn’t done very well. There were already questions about how long Tony was going to stay. So I had that run up to the summer, which is what I suppose you call the calm section. Then we had all of the ‘summer difficulties’ [laughs,] as I might call it.

[Laughing] Visits with presents. Yes. All of those things, Baltis and goodness knows what else. The job was, I suppose, to calm people down when they eventually came back to parliament and then effect a transition from one Prime Minister to another Prime Minister. So I quite often say about my time as Chief Whip, I never lost a vote but I did lose the Prime Minister. [Iain laughs]

Yeah, it was sort of voluntary though, I can remember writing in that period, there seemed to be government PPSs quite happily flouting the rule and being completely disloyal and expecting to keep their jobs afterwards and in some cases they did. Did you not think about being slightly more of a disciplinarian? Because I can’t imagine a Conservative Chief Whip ever allowing them to do that. The PPSs that signed the letter, so called, all stopped being PPSs.

No but there were some other occasions, I’m trying to think of examples but I can’t. Either they didn’t vote with the government on something… I don’t think there was a time during my time as Chief Whip when any PPS who didn’t vote with the government didn’t go.

Maybe it was another time. But actually even at that point it was very difficult to find PPSs. You do have to balance finding the talent and the people who you want to keep on side with a disciplined regime. One of the best things I did as Chief Whip was to strengthen the code of conduct in order to be able to deal with people who were completely out of order in terms of what they were saying about the government and about other members, their colleagues actually.

Do you think part of the problem with our political system is that the government payroll vote is just too big? That if the government had a majority of 1 then a third of MPs would be effectively members of the government, why has Peter Mandelson got 11 ministers in a department that the Liberal Democrats think should be abolished because it doesn’t do much? Could we not reduce the number of ministers? That’s two separate questions. Could we reduce the number of ministers? It’s easy for me to say that now after 10 years as a minister, probably yes.

You’ve been in the system, you’ve been a cabinet minister, you’ve seen how it operates. It seems that sometimes there are ministers with not much to do Actually I think in some departments there are people without an enormous amount to do, but parliamentary under-secretaries, ministers of state in all of the departments I’ve ever been in, big spending departments those with a big lobby or a lot of stakeholders have to work incredibly hard doing the sort of basic stuff of government. Don’t forget, it’s pretty hard for more than 10 people to gather together without expecting the minister to come and address them. So there’s a sort of feeding, that’s not government creating it, that’s peoples expectations of how open government is with them that feeds that. It’s the holy grail that you can be wholly strategic and not obsessed with detail and not meeting all these different groups, but actually the handling of the politics is such that it’s the detail. Particularly in somewhere like the Home Office it is the not knowing what’s going on that can be your downfall, because despite the fact that people think you should be highly strategic they then hold you to account for the small things that don’t happen. So you need to have people that have got a grip on that, and secondly you need to be able to make people expect that contact with a politician. There has been a very interesting history of what was the DTI, which had been pretty well downgraded, with the Treasury always wanting to take over quite a lot of their responsibilities. And now? It’s been well and truly reinstated as a big department. If what you’re doing is making an argument that ‘in order to get through the recession we need to build for the future’ you need a department that is doing that more active industrial policy that’s linking that in with skills and ensuring that the innovation and higher education links are there. Plus Peter Mandelson is an important and powerful politician…

He’s the new chancellor… I’m not sure that’s true [laughs]

He’s announced there’s going to be a comprehensive spending review. [Laughs] You’ve seen his influence on the government since he’s been back. He is effectively now Deputy Prime Minister isn’t he? He’s certainly the person who the Prime Minister looked to much more broadly than simply his brief. When I was sitting in cabinet, and I sat next to Peter, the Prime Minster would look to him for some of the broader political analysis. Good, I say. One thing we know about Peter is that he is a consummate political strategist and communicator and the fact that the Prime Minister brought him back into government last year lifted even amongst those of my colleague who either do or who feign to dislike him I think even they thought ‘actually this is pretty much a master stroke,’ in terms of bringing him back.

Well, certainly the opposition thought that and presumably as a Blairite you welcomed it from that point of view. I did [smile followed by laughter.]

Having said that if he is such a great political strategist, why are they persisting in this line on spending cuts when they know they’ll have to do it too? Isn’t it slightly duplicitous? No.

Jacqui Smith

It’s in the red book that they’ll have to cut spending but they say ‘oh, no we’re going to keep spending, there won’t be any spending cuts.’ Well, no, that is a caricature of what people are saying. Minsters across government including the prime minister and the chancellor are saying that we’re going to have to make difficult decisions about how we prioritise the spending…

…I’ve never heard the Prime Minister say that. I think he has said that. Well, he said it in terms of what was published yesterday, building Britain’s future, that actually we have had to make decisions about what we are going to prioritise - social housing, for example - and we have had to shift money around. That is not finding new money, it’s shifting money around. In my opinion the whole rationale for the idea of shifting away from central targets and moving to this idea of entitlements and holding people to account for delivering those, is about finding a different way in more difficult economic times of delivering continued improvement in the public services, of those who feel more responsive to the public even when you can’t spend a large amount of money on building their capacity. There will be therefore discussions going on across government, and made increasingly more public, about what that, those efficiencies, actually means, savings…

Cuts. Well … [hesitates]

I think the public knows that public spending has got to be cut so why not just acknowledge that? We do have to borrow in a recession but when the Bank of England says that the public levels of deficit is extraordinary and forget what the OECD and INF are saying, when your own Governor of the Bank of England is saying that, and you know that the public mood has changed to acknowledge that, why not simply change tack and say ‘yeah, we are going to have to cut the overall level of spending, and before an election we’re going to tell you which areas we’re going to do it in.’ Because there remains, I think, a fundamental difference between us and the Tories. The amount of money that you are going to have to spend in the future will be determined by the speed with which and the success with which you get through the economic downturn. So your public finances are inextricably linked to whether or not you can get growth back into the economy. The decisions we’ve taken in the short term are aimed not just at getting us through that short term but at getting us more quickly back to a time where we can grow back an economy with the potential to pay off the deficit and maintain public spending. You can’t know whether that’s going to be successful at this point, so it would be wrong to enter into ‘we’re all cutting but perhaps we’re all cutting differently.’ It’s an argument that the Prime Minister is trying to make and I don’t think he’s wrong to be making that because that is actually the difference in the approaches.

But doesn’t it go against everything he built his reputation on? He built his reputation for financial prudence and that’s gone out of the window. The government seems to be maxing out its credit card and then ordering new credit cards but then telling everybody else that that’s not how to run their lives, that’s how it seems. It’s not about maxing out on your credit card, is it? It’s about saying that during the time when the economy was growing the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown did have a strong reputation for prudence for cutting the debt at the point at which it was possible to do it. Effectively, mending the roof whilst the suns shining. Now the economic rationale which was the same rationale for doing that says in change times if you want to get through the economic downturn more quickly what you need to do is firstly protect the banks so they don’t take the whole edifice down and secondly, stimulate the economy in order to get through that, make sure people are keeping their jobs, getting back into work more quickly and build the supply side that’s going to enable you to come out more quickly. That is not simply about pumping money into the economy it’s about where you spend it and it’s that which then gives you the potential in the future not to see the only approach to the way you handle the economy being tacked to making cuts. The reason why I would argue the Tories economic rationale leads them to have to make cuts is because they didn’t accept the need for the stimulus package that’s gone in over the past year, 8 or 9 months anyway and therefore their economic rationale doesn’t accept that that will have an impact in helping us to grow in the future.

OK. Good defence [laughter] not convinced but we’ll let that one go. Right, let’s go back to your period as Home Secretary. When you first heard on your first day in the job about the terror bombs what was your first reaction? Apart from ‘oh, shit.’ [Laughter] I’m not sure I understood, I’m ashamed to say, when I first heard it, quite how serious it was. When somebody rings you up and they say ‘a car has been found in Haymarket and it seems like it might have been set up to explode’ and your first reaction is ‘oh, that’s interesting,’ ‘well now I’m Home Secretary, so I have responsibility for that.’

Who rings you up to tell you that? My Principal Private Secretary rang me up, and then quite quickly after that I spoke to Andrew Hayman at the time. Ian Blair came into the Home Office, was briefed by our people in the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism about what they knew. I think what I felt, because of course at that point it was one car, people weren’t quite clear what it was or what it was intended to do. The point at which I felt a bit of cold run through my veins I have to say was actually on the Saturday in the office when the Jeep ran into Glasgow Airport That’s when I suddenly thought, even though we knew that there were other people involved, that they were travelling up to Scotland. At that point you ask yourself, ‘how big is this? Are there more? Are they going to be more successful? Is it getting out of control? Do we actually know the extent of what’s going on?’ However what I did feel throughout the whole of that weekend was very secure in both the police and the security service in terms of what they seemed to know, their ability to be able to track what was going on. That’s why it differed from some other successful or even fraught terrorist attacks, because although it came out of the blue people then very quickly handled it.

Then did you realise that your performance in the media over that 48 hours is going to be absolutely crucial in the way that people viewed you as Home Secretary in the future? No, I was absolutely amazed that they were surprised that I was calm, what did they think I was going to do? Come running out of Downing Street shouting ‘don’t panic, don’t panic!’ [laughs] What did they think?

I think because you had gone straight into the cabinet as Home Secretary. Normally, if you’re Home Secretary, you’ve done one or two other jobs in the cabinet before, I think it was understandable that people thought, we don’t know this person really, the Chief Whip is a rather anonymous position, it was, sort of, ‘is she up to it?’ And I think there were some people who thought ‘first woman Home Secretary, this will test whether a woman can do the job,’ which I think is ridiculous but that’s how the media works, as you know. I think it was understandable that people would have possibly looked at your performance more with more scrutiny than they might’ve done without these. Do you not see that? I suppose so but I’m still…

But you weren’t thinking that way? You didn’t think when you did the first TV thing ‘My god, I had better get this right’? Well, I did think I’ve got to get this right because I was the Home Secretary and everybody expected me to know what was going on be able to explain to them what we were doing to keep them safe. The first thing I said when we went into the Home Office - even before this happened - was that actually my job was to protect the people who had elected us. I think, therefore, when you’ve got that mindset what you’re thinking is what do I need to do both to protect and reassure? That was the mindset that I started the job with and though that was tested over the weekend, it didn’t feel difficult at the time- I wasn’t going to start screaming or crying or saying it was all too difficult.

For the Many

Why do you think that Gordon Brown appointed you? Somebody said to me the other day that they had talked to him about me - and he’s in fact said this to me - I think he wanted someone who he felt was able to communicate in a reasonably down to earth way about issues that really are up amongst the top three that people are concerned about, as with crime and immigration. I think he wanted - and he was right to want this, incidentally - women right at the very top of government I think my CV in terms of the other jobs I had done in government sort of made me just about qualified to do it. I hope he trusted me and thought I would be loyal and supportive and I think have been. I think it was probably that combination.

There was the theory at the time that it might signal a change in policy in the Home Office, but actually you carried on the policies of Blunkett, John Reid and what I would describe as fairly authoritarian polices with ID cards, 42 days detention and the rest of it. Were you not tempted to change tack with a new Prime Minister and new government? Here’s the challenge - actually I do believe in those things - the ID cards and 42 days. I felt that, and still do feel, that if your job is to protect those particularly who are least able to protect themselves then one person’s authoritarianism becomes another’s emphasis on supporting those who are actually least able to protect themselves. I think I did change style, not only by being a woman but also in the same way as I wasn’t the authoritarian, in being Chief Whip. I didn’t want to go in there. My first thought was, what John said about the Home Office not being fit for purpose was probably right at the time, and in fact the changes that he and David made had changed that anyway. It felt to me to be the right thing to do to say I’m going to support you in what we need to do so that was a change. Secondly, I think I’ve put much more emphasis than has been placed certainly by John Reid on policing crime. This is particularly so on some of the things that were a theme of yesterday, like how do you give people in communities an understanding of what their entitlement is in terms of policing? Or how do you give people confidence in crime? How do you change what has been a pretty top-down approach to managing policing to making it more about innovation and also giving the public much more say in an area where traditionally what your public think has not been very important? So those things I set out to do, and succeeded, I think. On other areas, like the approach to counter terror I think we did change it as there was much stronger emphasis-and this came from the Prime Minister- in the elements of our counter terrorist strategy that was aimed at preventing people becoming, or supporting, terrorists in the first place. For the first time, we published a public, counter terrorism strategy and that was something I thought was important because I wanted to open up that world a bit more to people. I wanted to open up both the nature of the threat and our ability to counter it, but also the challenge for a broader range of civic and government agencies to be involved in working with us to counter terror so that I think was a different approach. Helena Kennedy said to me the other day something about the water in the Home Office that turns you all authoritarian, but actually I think it’s something about knowing the threats out there and your responsibility that makes you want to do everything that you can to protect people.

Would you accept that if the Conservatives had been in government over the last 10 years and quite plausibly done a lot of the things that you’ve done you could’ve been on the other side of the dispatch box arguing exactly the kinds of thing that they have been arguing? Because traditionally the Labour party has been more of a civil libertarian party than the Tories, but the roles have been reversed now… But one of the important things about New Labour was the understanding that there was nothing unprogressive about making people live by fairer rules, making people live up to their responsibilities and protecting those who are the victims of crime and anti-social behaviour who will predominantly - not in every single crime - be in poorer neighbourhoods and poorer families and less able to protect themselves. That is a progressive cause, and there’s nothing essentially antithetical to my values in doing the things that I have done. Now the thing is, if we had been in Labour opposition I suspect as we had reviewed the PLP there would’ve been opposition to some of the things that have been done, but I personally wouldn’t have done. I’ve always been pretty - to use your words - authoritarian.

Going on to the 42 days issue, I never felt your heart was really in that, and I did think that was something that your previous answer you almost confirmed that without saying it. You must have realised the level of opposition within the Labour party and on the broader lap to that issue and you had several points where you could have rode that but you didn’t. Why? We did compromise on various different places. In fact, I arguably conceded too much and actually made what we were trying to do less clear to people. I didn’t because I did believe, and still believe, that there would come a time when investigating an incredibly complex plot the people that were doing that investigation would run out of time, therefore meaning that someone ends up not being charged and has to be released. I genuinely believed that that might happen, but we couldn’t convince the people that we needed and the strong forces that needed to be alongside us. Having said that, we won it in the Commons and I take quite a lot of pride in that.

You had to bribe the DUP… No, there was no bribery involved, and don’t forget we had to get quite a lot of our people, that was hard work!

I know one MP who was offered any committee membership he wanted- a place on the security and intelligence committee - by Gordon Brown, but everyone said ‘oh no nothing was offered to anyone at all…‘ Is he on the committee?

I couldn’t possibly say. I’m sure he’s not.

**I’m not complaining about it because we all know these things go on and it’s what happens in politics but to maintain this facade that nothing was offered to the DUP just won’t wash. ** I didn’t. I was solely concerned in making the argument and making concessions where necessary to reflect people’s understandable concerns, and to make it, I hoped, sort of acceptable and something that would work. I think that we did do that although as I said I think we overcomplicated it. It was clear that it wasn’t going to get through the Lords and that was the point at which we conceded. Having, I think, won the point that we’ve got it through the Commons where people thought we wouldn’t.

And you got rid of David Davis at the same time… Absolutely.

What did you make of that? I think he is a talented politician but he made his whole raison d’etre to get rid of Home Secretaries. Well he didn’t get rid of me… In fact I got rid of 3.

Jacqui Smith

Let’s come on to the Damian Green issue, which I think a lot of people thought of as the low point in your time as Home Secretary. Looking back on that now do you think you should’ve been told about it because John Reid certainly says that he would’ve been told if he was Home Secretary and Michael Howard says he would’ve been told. Why weren’t you? Interestingly enough there was a select committee who, when they looked at it, said that they didn’t think that Home Secretaries should be told. John was in a sort of similar situation during the cash for honours enquiry and I don’t think he was told when, for example the Prime Minister was going to be questioned or others were going to be arrested. Sometimes there’s a little bit of rewriting of history and what I thought was quite interesting was what did these former Home Secretaries think they would have done had they been told? I often ask myself this and sometimes for a challenge they said we would’ve asked questions. Well frankly as a minister if I ask questions it’s not only because I want an answer it’s because I want something done. Now if I had asked if they were sure they were doing the right thing I would’ve expected somebody to take some action on it, but actually it would’ve been wrong for a Home Secretary to interfere. This was a legitimate investigation and they were pursuing it in a legitimate way, so part of me is frustrated that I didn’t know but I think it would’ve been more difficult to know and not to take action, or to know and take action because that would’ve been wrong as well.

I can remember at the time I couldn’t believe that you wouldn’t have known. I was like, surely the Home Secretary would’ve known this but I do remember thinking even if you had known what would you have done? Even so, I still think it’s something you should’ve been informed about, even if it wasn’t with an aim of doing anything. But firstly at what point, you know I mean if you’ve got my understanding of the police investigation is that actually there probably was quite a bit of time before the arrest of Damian Green, when I suspect the police knew that that was where they were heading to. So yes, theoretically there was the opportunity to tell us but you have to maintain the operational independence of the police, and this was the same problem that came up with Boris. If you believe in the operational independence of the police you have to live by that, even when its politically difficult to do that. Whilst I might’ve expected to be told in advance of an arrest that was likely to be high profile, let’s say with respect to terrorist, I wouldn’t have expected to be told in advance of other arrests. That’s because that is the operational job of the police, and when you get on the wrong side of that the very real danger is that if, in the case of the arrest of the politician, you’re telling a senior politician of another party and either they do or don’t take action, it becomes even more difficult and you get even more mired in that conflict between politics and operational policy.

Thinking back on the whole thing now, what went wrong ? What was done wrong? Well I think presumably the justification for arresting Damian Green was in order to be able to safeguard any potential evidence I think that - the police have said this to me subsequently - I don’t think that they quite understood the political significance of arresting a senior opposition politician and doing it in parliament.

What does that say then? It says that they are not sufficiently savvy when it comes to political…

It’s ludicrous isn’t it when they had one of the most politically aware met police commissioners - Iain Blair was the most politically aware… But he had left by then

Was it not over the top – with anti terrorism officers? They weren’t anti terrorism officers, they were what would previously have been in the Special Branch that were then in the unit within the Met that also contained the counter terror police. They weren’t themselves counter terror police officers.

Do you think Damian Green is owed an apology? No.

I do a radio show every Friday night and I had a caller last Friday called John Hurst who runs a campaign – he was convicted for manslaughter for 25 years and served 25 years and he now runs a campaign to get prisoners the vote and he says that the European Court has issued a ruling that before the next election the government votes concerning prisoners. Is that true? It certainly is the case that there has been a European judgement about votes for serving prisoners and up till now and in my opinion quite rightly the government has resisted doing it.

It is something that they will have to do at some point. I’m not sure if we will have to do it and I think it is one of those things we should refuse to do.

I totally agree with you on that, politically dynamite I would’ve thought. He basically said that if the government doesn’t implement this ruling by the European Court, he said it’s by the European Union, but that’s complete rubbish.

The BNP. Would you accept that the Labour government should take some responsibility for the success of the BNP in the last few years because people in traditionally Labour areas feel completely let down by the government. That’s whether it’s because they feel excluded from their own communities or they feel they’ve been flooded with people from other cultures or they aren’t getting housing or whatever… Because we’re the politicians we’ll need to take some responsibility for it but I don’t believe it’s our policies which have caused that to happen - I think the Tories need to take responsibility as well. All of us have allowed that to happen and all of us have a responsibility to fight it and incidentally - and not solely because of the BNP - because I do understand people’s concern about the impact of migration, and their views that the government needs to be able to control migration. I took the action that I took as Home Secretary with the explicit objective we’re going to do this in order to reduce the numbers this year from what they would’ve been. Also, if you remember on the day in fact that my resignation was made public- I didn’t make it public, but the day in which it was announced in Parliament- I announced in Parliament that I thought we should extend the points based system to those that wanted to stay, that wanted to get probationary citizenship and we should therefore be able to control the numbers that settled here as well. In the focus groups as I understand it people said that the points based system is extremely popular. They said that sounds like a good idea ,and we kept trying to talk about it and we didn’t succeed.

How do you feel the BNP should be fought generally? Because it seems to me they are effectively offered no platform by the media which gives them a martyrdom status, so they can go around saying they won’t give us a fair crack of the whip. When the BNP leaders are interviewed they are treated in such an aggressive manner that again people start to feel sorry for them. Do you think they need to be confronted more by mainstream politicians and debated with or do you think that a no platform policy is right? I’m not sure about debated with. I do think that they need to be taken on through active campaigning at a community level. So, for example, if I take my constituency, we were shaken to the core when a BNP councillor was elected in Redditch and we had not fought hard enough in order to make sure that didn’t happen. We then had a strategy that was about both trying to identify the reality of where they came from, including some of the arguments actually this is the sort of ideology against which we fought in the second world war, but that’s not enough in itself. You then have to recognise that they are successful , they are good effective campaigners in the way that some independents are in that they identify on a local level the issues that are most likely to concern people…

Like the Lib Dems in the 70’s and 80’s… …and when we campaign now in the labour party we can take that on. When we don’t then that enables them to get through in the way that they have, so I think it’s that sort of campaign - listen to what people are saying, responding to that on issues like immigration for example, on crime and anti-social behaviour and some of the things that are most toxic with the BNP.

Jacqui Smith election logo

Do you think the more people see of them either on an elected level, because generally they get elected and then they’re rubbish or, in the media, when in my view they should be given the opportunity to condemn themselves in their own words, because generally their spokesmen are not very good. Apparently Question Time won’t have Nick Griffin on, which I think is ludicrous because he is an elected politician whether we like it or not. I think whenever he appears on television more people would be put off by him than would be converted. I think I’m not convinced at a national level because actually I think they probably are reasonably articulate and get away with and don’t get quite the challenge that they get necessarily from a campaigner on a local level. I’m not necessary convinced that providing them with a platform is the answer because it tends to legitimise.

Finally onto drugs policy, which has been a disaster for years hasn’t it? The fact that we have more drugs on our streets now than ever before. No we don’t . What we have is less drug use in both adults and young people – it might not be the perceived wisdom but all the research in all the surveys suggested that that’s the case. We have massively more people going through drug treatment, we have just in the last few months a very big increase in the wholesale price of cocaine because of the success we are having downstream in cutting off the supply so I think actually funnily enough one of the things that I looked at towards the end of the time that I was Home Secretary was what the impact of the drugs strategy had been because we had a 10 year drug strategy and one of the things I did quite soon after becoming Home Secretary was we had the next drugs consultation and then the next drugs strategy. I think we have been more successful than your question would suggest, but it remains one of those things the people are extremely concerned about maybe because you worry and, as the mother of a teenager, I worry, about drugs and alcohol and you worry that it fuels crime as well and it is something out of control. The reality is that it’s not as out of control as people fear and I think we’ve got a handle now on what we need to do to control it and to keep it down.

Do you think one of the keys is on the rehabilitation side? Maybe you’ve done this, I really don’t know, but I remember when I was a candidate on the last election I went to visit a rehabilitation centre on the north Norfolk coast and I’d never been anywhere like that. You’ve probably been in this position a lot where you go somewhere thinking ‘oh my god, how am I going to cope with this?’ I took Iain Duncan Smith there and there was a young girl who knew his nephew and it was quite a touching moment, really. I got talking to a guy who was 21 but looked 40 and he had been there for 2 months and he had got clean. Then about four months later I bumped into him in a supermarket. He came up and said ‘you’re that Tory aren’t you?’ I asked how he was doing and he said it was really difficult because the funding ran out so he had to leave and was put in a bedsit in King’s Lynn with a drug addict. He said he knew he was going to back on the drugs. I thought I couldn’t allow this to happen so I eventually managed to get him rehoused somewhere else. That seemed to me to be a common problem, where local authorities have a certain amount of funding but it would run it would then run out and they were just completely left to their own devices so presumably quite a high percentage would then go back on drugs. This was back in 2004 but it didn’t seem to be a particularly joined-up system. It’s a fair criticism that we focused to begin with on getting people into treatment as opposed to getting them successfully out of the other end and back into life. To coin a phrase, I said when we did this drug strategy that people didn’t only get their heads together they got their lives together and that meant much more of a focus on the sort of housing provisions that they had. Incidentally, it also meant a tougher approach to work and benefit entitlement and a sanction if you are a drug misuser and you’re not willing to continue the treatment and are on benefits. This is because I actually suspect for that young man getting a job will help them and will be crucial part of this recovery. I think that job, partner, house is usually the answer once you’ve done that first bit of being clean.

Would you say that the last few months have been the worst of your political career? Has there been any time in the last few months when you’ve thought why do I bother? Yes , in the middle of the night, most nights. If your reputation and family life and career was being dragged through the mud then you wouldn’t be a human being if you didn’t lose sleep over it.

Describe on a human level what it is like being at the centre of a media storm, not just for a few days but for a sustained period of time? Well I think I described it as being horrible and that’s what it is. It’s probably even worse for the people around you than it is for you because certainly whilst I was still Home Secretary I was reasonably cocooned. You’ve got a job to get on with, you’ve got civil servants and advisors around you and, because you’re Home Secretary, you don’t generally – though I sometimes still did - go to the supermarket an awful lot. However, you can’t open a newspaper without seeing stories about yourself. I think the scale of it was brought home to me when I was sat a home one night in London with my sister. I said that it had been an awful day, and I didn’t want to watch the news. Instead, we turned over to the comedy quiz program chaired by John Sergeant, which started with ‘welcome to the program where people get sticky and uncomfortable, just like Jacqui Smith’s husband.’ I can laugh about it now but it was one those moments when I thought that I wouldn’t ever get away from it. I felt I would have it have it hung around my neck and that’s part of the reason why I had to resign. The other thing that was deeply frustrating about it was that I knew the things we needed to do as a government in order to stand a chance of winning the next election , which were convince people that we can tackle crime and anti social behaviour and that we could control immigration. That’s the job of the Home Secretary and that’s what the Prime Minister wanted me to do, particularly in terms of being able to get out and talk to people. I couldn’t do that because every time (after the media furore) I either avoided interviews or I did interviews and spent two thirds of the time talking about my expenses or the expense system generally.

Had all that not happened then you would still be Home Secretary? Well I don’t know…

Well you wouldn’t have resigned… No

That’s a pretty heavy price to pay. It all started with the second home thing. To a normal person in the street it was ludicrous that you were claiming your home in Redditch as a second home. I understand the systemic things but it was ludicrous and it was the system that was to blame for it. You must have felt at that time ‘why am I being crucified for this? I don’t have a choice in the matter.’ I had a choice in the matter but I had followed the rules. I had sought advice. I had lived with my sister since 1997. I wasn’t in a box room up the top of the house with a shelf in the fridge if I was lucky -it wasn’t as it was characterised.

No, but your main home has to be where you husband and kids are. It’s just logic isn’t it? Well , this is the interesting thing. I thought that it was strange that you could have within the rules - should have, in fact, if you followed the rules strictly - a main home that wasn’t where your family lived. That was why I wrote to the fees office to ask if they could clarify for me that your main home isn’t where your kids live. The other problem with that, of course, is that I did have to make a decision. So when I became a minister, my husband and I sat down and we discussed the fact that I was going to be spending all this time in London. We discussed whether we should move the kids to London and we decided that we didn’t want to because that’s where they were born and that’s where they went to school. I was lucky that my husband, because he had given up his career and was working with me, was able to provide them with the sort of continuous parenting that I wasn’t able to. I did then make the explicit decision that my main home was going to be different to where our family home was. I stuck by the rules, I never flipped, and once it stopped being the case that ministers had to have London as their main home I asked myself whether I was going to be spending more or less time in London. I had become schools minister and I was going into the cabinet so I was going to be spending time in London. I checked it for all of those reasons and I thought that I had done the right thing both by the spirit, and by the letter, of the rules. Hopefully within the next few weeks the commissioner will determine whether or not I was…

Jacqui Smith GMB

But you did commit the heinous crime of buying an 88p bath plug, is that something you bitterly regret and have apologised to the nation for? Somebody, an MP who is also an accountant, said to me the other day “what the hell were you doing putting in such detailed receipts?” And you know that was actually a receipt that I didn’t mean to put in. I thought it was a good idea to be transparent, putting in the receipts which of course included that 88p bath plug…

What do you think it says about politics or people’s perception of politicians that it is actually the comparatively small things like that that people have really got angry about, rather than some of the bigger figures? I can understand that, because it just looks piddling and it just looks like you are in it for everything you can get out of it. We shouldn’t have had a system in which you could claim for all of those little things and we shouldn’t have had such a system in which so much discretion was necessary, because then you can always identify the thing that, on its own, looks ridiculous. One of the things that I regret is that I remember how I felt at the time when I was chief whip and Jack Straw was Leader of the House. I can remember us vaguely discussing the fact that the accommodation allowance didn’t really make sense, that it was all a bit tricky and that perhaps this was the time when we should just increase MP’s salaries. I can remember thinking that it’s not a priority for my constituents and it’s not a priority for me to make that kind of reform - it’s not something that people are worried about. Well, I was wrong.

Jacqui Smith

**Do you think if someone does introduce the pay issue - if Sir Christopher Kelly came out and said we are going to do away with some of these allowances and put MPs pay up to 95 grand or something - that the public would stand for it? I don’t think they would, would they? ** They might not, but I think it is probably the only answer. It’s that o r some sort of flat rate. Despite all the hoo-ha I think the Prime Minister was right when he suggested some sort of day rate? You either have to put it on salary, have a set amount which MPs can manage themselves or you have to have an amount per night. You can’t have a situation where people are claiming for this and that.

Have you been shocked by the local or public anger over the expenses? I’ve been on various phone-ins on stations like 5Live or Radio Wales, and I found myself defending politicians. Eventually I thought ‘why am I doing this?’ because no one wants to listen. All they are interested in is having a rant, and they couldn’t really give a damn what the actual facts of the matter are. Then I went on the World Service. There were people calling from all over the world saying that they didn’t know why we were all getting so exercised about these ridiculously small amounts of money and that we should try having a dictator who is embezzling millions of pounds! At the end of the program I thought that actually this says that our democracy is much safer than we think it is, because we really get exorcised about these little things and don’t think ‘oh well it’s what politicians do’. Oh well that’s quite interesting because just before I stepped down I did a G8 justice and Home Affairs. Quite a few of my colleagues in the U.S and Europe were asking me ‘what is all this what is all this fuss for and why do you earn so little?’ They were completely perplexed by it. But you’re right in what you said and I suppose you’ve got a very glass half full way of thinking about it - which is good. The reason most people are angry is because they expected more of us. I don’t think they’ve been fed the whole facts about the system and I don’t think the arguments have been made regarding why we are paid and given allowances in the way we are. I think there are still a lot of people that don’t really quite understand that we genuinely do our jobs properly we need to live in two different places.

When you found out about this film package did you think ‘that’s it’? Yes.

Can I ask what you said to your husband? I’m going to have to resign was the first thing I said. I was going into a meeting so that was all I said to him. Then I had to go into the meeting which was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. However, it was the Friday before the G20 and people said to me - not the Prime Minister, you understand - that they didn’t think the Prime Minister or the government were going to thank me for resigning just before the G20 which was so important for the government and so important for the Prime Minister. That and I suppose a certain amount of inertia meant that I didn’t resign at that particular point but it more than crossed my mind I have to say. I felt the situation would be exactly as it is, which is that people would be sympathetic to me but they would always remember it, and that this would make it difficult for me to get on with the job that I needed to do and that the government and party needed me to do.

Have you ever seen that sketch on Little Britain where the politician wheels out their family, like David Mellor did at the garden fence? Was that his idea and was he happy to do it? It wasn’t his idea but he was certainly very happy to do it. He felt he should do it. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do or not, I suppose it meant that people didn’t have to chase him around to get a picture of him…

I read somewhere that you nearly sued Alistair Graham. I told him that what he said was close to being legally actionable. I’m so disappointed in people like Alistair Graham and Martin Bell, who have been mouths on sticks without knowing the facts. What I said to Alistair Graham was that Standards in Public Life, it strikes me, involves knowing the facts before you shoot your mouth off about them. He didn’t and he was quite happy to appear on any media outlet that would have him or write for any newspaper that would have him accusing me of sponging. I wrote to him and he responded by saying that he heard on Newsnight that this was the situation so he assumed it was.

What does the future hold for you? You have a very marginal seat, and if the polls are right, you’re stuffed. You’re definitely standing then? Yes.

You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t contemplate defeat… Well I’ve contemplated defeat since 1st May 1997, that’s part of what it’s like being in a marginal seat. ..I was pleased to be re-elected in 2001 and 2005.

Who did you in defeat in 1997? Actually it was a new seat that was previously represented by Eric Forth, who had gone off to Bromley. So I didn’t defeat anybody to be elected. It’s a pretty straight forward Labour-Tory marginal that becomes more difficult in the next elections because of boundary changes, so I have always operated on the basis that the next election will be my last. To that extent it’s nothing new, and I think it’s also the way that you think nationally as well as the way you think of your constituency. I’m not out applying for jobs - put it that way- because you’ve got to be in it to win it. We’re going to fight the best possible campaign and hope that things go well both locally and nationally and enable us to win.

But how can you if you don’t have the activists on the ground? If you can only get 50 people turning out in Norwich to select the local candidate for the by-election, very few people are going out on the doorstep too. You can’t do it all through the media and the internet - you also have to do it in the traditional way. Are you finding it difficult in your area to motivate people ? In my constituency less so, although interestingly enough some of the people who are most disappointed with us because of the expenses issue are Labour party activists. They think we have let them down, and the Labour Party always has a touch of ‘we’re being let down by our leadership’ at the best of times - and this is the worst of times. Having said that, I think that certainly in Redditch there are still a lot of people who are willing to turn out and knock on doors. That comes back to the point of us being a marginal constituency. If you’re in a seat like that you’ve done it week in week out and you don’t know any other way. That’s the way they respond to a challenge-‘let’s get out and knock on a few doors’. But it is a big problem because we won’t have large amounts of money to fight the election nationally or locally. We will depend much more than others on that sort of built-in contact- communicating with them and getting them out to vote, which will also be very very difficult in terms of support, so it’s a big challenge.

In the unlikely event that Labour wins the next election, would you want to go back into government? Yes.

**That’s a straight answer! Is there a particular job that you’ve always wanted to do in politics? ** I think once you’ve been Home Secretary you can’t really complain that you haven’t had the chance to do an interesting job.

I’ve always fancied being transport minister… Have you?

Shows a distinct lack of ambition. You travel around on the train the whole time and people harangue you!

I don’t like trains… You can’t say that if you want to be transport minister!

You know I got two speeding ticket on the same journey at three in the morning and I was only doing 37 and had to go on one of these speed management courses. Good! (laughs) In 1997 I had a Tory opponent who got de-selected because he had two speeding tickets, you ought to be careful, leave that bit out…

I had decided I wasn’t going to stand at the next election but I have to say I got so fired up by what’s happened over the past few weeks I’ve changed my mind. Where are you going to stand?

There’s going to be quite a lot coming up aren’t there. It’s going to be fascinating after the next election because there could be 300 new MPs and that hasn’t happened since 1945. In a way that will change the political system far more than any bit of legislation just through attitudes. I suspect quite a high portion of the parliamentary Labour party will be new won’t they ? Don’t forget the people that will lose their seats in the general election if it didn’t go according to plan would be those people who were largely elected in 1997.

Were you angry with Hazel Blears, doing what she did? I don’t know if she did it. I don’t know where it came from. It certainly didn’t come from me, that announcement. Hazel is one of my best friends in parliament so on any occasion when I have been angry with her I have got over it pretty quickly.

She was clearly annoyed at what she felt was a briefing operation against her from Number 10. They were accusing her of leaking your departure. It was astonishing that a cabinet minister would resign the day before important elections. I totally understood why she did it - in fact I predicted it. She’s been very hard done by. One of the problems of this whole expenses thing is that the pain has not necessarily fallen where it should have.

The laws of natural justice have gone out the window. And people feel hard done by, and with some justification in some cases.

Her biggest mistake was apologising I think. I’ve always had a lot of time for her. When I worked for David Davis in 2005 she was at the Home Office and I used to go to meetings with her where she got all Muslim groups in to talk about terror attacks and how to respond and the rest of it. I’d never really heard of her before that but she was absolutely brilliant at chairing there. People take the piss on my blog because I’m always defending her- she wrote me a note thanking me for my support. I think it’s an absolute tragedy, as she’s one of the few cabinet ministers I thought was really able to get across the case. Are you going to write a book? I’m not going to write my memoirs, because if you want to make any money out of them you have to bad mouth your colleagues. If there’s one thing I’ve always been it’s a team player and I’m not willing to do that.

You’ve worked with two Prime Ministers, both of whom are obviously completely different characters. Caroline Flint accused Gordon Brown of a lot of things when she resigned. She made a lot of allegations about the way that he conducts government and said that she felt that women were excluded from his circle. Did you ever feel any of that, or, because you were Home secretary, wouldn’t you have felt that anyway? I think because I was Home Secretary I wouldn’t have done. I had quite a big job to do and Gordon was always willing to listen to me. I didn’t have an input into broader government policy apart from what happened around the cabinet table but he was always willing to listen to me about Home Office stuff and change his views on occasion if we disagreed. I wouldn’t have any complaints. I thought Caroline was badly done by and I think that almost had more to do with people around Gordon’s distrust of her than it had to do with her gender. I think the trouble was that for some people if you got on the wrong side you could never get on the right side. You need to be more inclusive, because you’re the Prime Minister and you’ve got to bring in all sorts of people and not test their loyalty in a way that means they’re almost set up to fail.

Is he too tribal? Even the hard left found it almost impossible to dislike Tony Blair on a personal level. He had that magnetic personality that enabled him to draw people in and get people to do things that maybe they wouldn’t normally have done and Gordon Brown just doesn’t quite have that. JS: He does one-to-one. The thing about Tony is that he could do it through the TV, in a meeting, in Q & A and one-to-one, although he was more powerful in a larger group than in a smaller group. Gordon is very different. If you’re on a one-to-one with Gordon Brown he is more relaxed, more personable, more clear in his thinking but not in an aggressive way - he communicates with you really well. If you could just bottle that and use it for the sorts of forms of communication that you need to use now…

People used to say that about John Major…look what happened to him! He won an election didn’t he?

He lost another one! Would you ever take on an outside interest whilst an MP? Yeah.

It seems at the moment that it’s the new thing to beat politicians with and it’s a myth that it’s just Tories – you don’t see anything wrong with taking on outside interests? Well over the last 10 years I’ve had three jobs effectively and I think I’ve done them pretty successfully and I haven’t let my constituents down. That’s being minister, being a constituency MP and being a mum. I’ve probably done the last one worst of all really… If you’re organised I don’t think it’s impossible to do other things as well. I’m not averse to people doing jobs alongside being an MP and I think there’s a certain amount of double standards between the idea that it’s ok to do interviews and write books but not ok to be in business. It’s whether or not you’ve got the energy and ability to do those things and not let your constituency down- that should be the determining factor.

You said that you were the worst at being a parent of those jobs. Do you really think that, and if so, do you have any regrets that you’ve spent so much time on politics? It was partly flippant. I don’t think I’ve been a bad parent. Although I haven’t been a very ‘there’ parent I’ve been there more than a lot of Dads in similar situations probably. However, it’s the thing that I’ve missed out on because the kids live in Redditch and there have been times when I haven’t been there enough for them and I haven’t been able to attend events. When my 11 year old says to me - because they knew I was going to resign - he said: “Mum, when you are not Home Secretary any more what does that mean? Does it mean that when we go on holiday you won’t be on the phone so much?” and I said yeah that’s just about what it means. He’s never known any different because he was born in 1998 so I’ve been an MP or minister most of his life. I don’t think there are permanent scars - or I hope there are not – because I think it’s quite good for kids to think their mum is the Home Secretary.

How can you shield them? And not just in relation to what’s happened over the last few months. It must’ve crossed your mind when you became home sec actually ‘I’m vaguely putting my family in danger’. I didn’t think I was putting them in danger from terrorists in that sense but I did think I was putting them in danger in other ways. I said to my 15 year old “don’t be under misapprehensions that when I’m banging on about under -age drinking there won’t be someone out there who wants to take a photo of you holding a can of lager so even if somebody just hands it to you be aware that people have cameras on their mobile phones” . What happened to Will Straw sort of stayed with me and that’s what I’ve wanted to protect my kids from, so that’s what I was worried about. Of course they must’ve had a really horrible time over the last six months. They’ve been really well serviced by their schools, they’ve got a good set of friends and people around to protect them but they must’ve seen what’s been in the papers about Richard?? So it must’ve been horrible for them.

Let’s do some ‘quickfire’ question…

Jack Bauer or James Bond? James Bond.

What makes you laugh? My kids, tv, my colleagues- sometimes for the wrong reasons. Steven Pound is the funniest Labour MP.

Favourite meal? Christmas lunch.

Most hated politician? David Davis I think because he set out not for any policy reason but simply to prove something, to get rid of me and others.

Most formidable opponent? Him as well.

Most romantic thing you’ve ever done? Probably not made my husband sleep on the sofa in the last six months

Last concert? Girls Aloud, it was brilliant

What book are you reading? Kate Atkinson- When Will There Be Good News

Favourite view? The view of Harlech beach from just above it near where our caravan is

Favourite comedian? Catherine Tate

One word to describe Tony Blair? Brilliant

One word to describe Gordon Brown? Equally brilliant (laughs)

Brown supportas spending pledges after checking change in sofa

Demand for duckhouses doubles after scandal

Bercow Wimbledon

Big brother and parliament

Bbc funding champagne

Ant and Dec slam Iran’s ‘flawed’ voting system

‘Pigs might fly’ :WHO dismisses swine flu epidemic threat

Thriller star leaves fortune to ‘Zombie’ Prime Minister

Thread of dishonesty

ID cards, labour identity