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Last Updated: Monday, 29 January 2007, 13:24 GMT
Reid's building work problems
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

So John "the Builder" Reid says tackling the Home Office is like renovating a house - and he has started by tearing off the wallpaper.

John Reid
Mr Reid says he will stay to put things right
But rather than uncovering the odd crack in the plaster, he appears to have revealed woodworm, dry rot, rising damp and bowing walls.

And he has confessed that, while things were pretty bad when he arrived, he expects worse to come.

He has also suggested that, rather than trying to put the whole house right, it might be better to turn it into two flats.

"Next week there will be another problem, and the week after," he said.

We've all had builders like that.

Hostage to fortune

The biggest problem, however, is not that there will likely be a series of new problems ahead, like the freed or "lost" offenders and overcrowded prisons rows which have hit him over the past few days.

That would be bad enough, but he is probably right when he points out that has always been the case with the Home Office, as his many predecessors from both parties have discovered.

Home Office sign
Home Office needs renovation according to Mr Reid
And he is defiant in his insistence he will sort it out and put his house in good order no matter how long it takes - itself being seen as a hostage to fortune.

His biggest problem is that, like Bob the Builder, at some point he will have to take down the scaffolding, pack up his wagon and declare he has "fixed it" - unless, of course, he expects to move on after only re-papering over the problems.

And that, as many former home secretaries would also undoubtedly confirm, is a very tall order indeed.

Serious battering

It is being claimed that some of Mr Reid's problems are "payback" from those he angered when he stomped into the department, blasting the previous builders and residents.

It is being suggested that civil servants, judges and former home secretaries all took exception to his hard-man approach which appeared to put the onus for the problems on them.

And he certainly now seems to be attempting to set the record straight there, praising his predecessors and members of the judiciary.

He has also gone out of his way to show how closely he is working with Gordon Brown - the man who will get the bill for all this renovation and who, many now believe, may well give Mr Reid an extension to his building contract when he takes over from Tony Blair.

Others, however, point out that crises are what the Home Office does. It is in the nature of the beast that a department that deals with crime, terrorism, immigration and sentencing is going to face challenges on an almost daily basis.

The answer, they claim, is not to suggest that can be ended, but that policies can be made and structures can be put in place that answer them rather than exacerbate them, as some claim prisons policy, for example, has done.

Meanwhile, Mr Reid's own hopes of challenging the chancellor for the top job, if he had ever harboured any, have certainly taken a serious battering as a result of the latest developments.

So perhaps he really will be happy to stay for another couple of years, as he suggested, to clear up and make good on his renovation job.

Whether he succeeds or not remains to be seen. One thing, however, does seems likely - and that is he will live to regret that building metaphor when the next crisis strikes the Home Office.

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