The Scotsman said:The future looks bleak for Reid as he gets the Blair 'kiss of death'
JAMES KIRKUP POLITICAL EDITOR
THERE are few endorsements Cabinet ministers dread more than Tony Blair expressing his "complete confidence" in them, but John Reid yesterday found himself receiving that dubious benediction.
For many politicians facing career-threatening crisis, the Prime Minister's reassurance has been the kiss of death. The super-confident Mr Reid may not be thinking of clearing his Home Office desk just yet, but many believed yesterday that they could hear the last rites being read over the Home Secretary's chances of ever challenging Gordon Brown for the Labour crown.
The Home Secretary has been coming under increasing pressure this week over England's jails, which are full to capacity.
That forced him to ask judges to jail only the most serious offenders. Some responded by letting at least two sex offenders avoid jail.
In the latest such case, Keith Morris, who had four offences involving children, was given bail by Judge Graham Cottle.
Mr Cottle told Exeter court that Morris was only free because of Mr Reid's request. "If this case had been here last week it would have been over by now and he would be in Exeter prison," the judge said.
Morris's release follows a case on Thursday when a judge in Wales imposed a non-custodial sentence on Derek Williams, who pleaded guilty to downloading child pornography from the internet.
Williams himself inflamed anger over his release by telling the media "I've been punished enough" and blaming Mr Reid for his sudden national notoriety. "If John Reid hadn't sent this letter out none of this would have happened. None of this is anything to do with us, it's all about politics," he said from his home in North Wales.
Mr Reid last night said he had no regrets and suggested judges had misconstrued his advice.
But David Cameron, the Conservative leader, yesterday described the Williams case as "disgraceful" and blamed the Home Secretary. The opposition has stopped short of a resignation call but Tories can scent blood.
Because even though the prisons crisis would be bad enough in isolation, it was not the only blow Mr Reid suffered yesterday. Professor Sir Rod Morgan, chairman of the Youth Justice Board in England, resigned his post yesterday with a blistering attack on Labour's "prisons crisis".
And in a High Court case in London, government lawyers were forced to admit that Mr Reid had acted "unlawfully" in relation to the detention of young asylum-seekers.
All told, it was enough for Mr Blair's spokesman to be forced into a bleak ritual exchange at his regular meeting with Westminister journalists. Does Mr Blair have complete confidence in his Home Secretary? "Yes," the spokesman replied wearily.
The very fact that the question was being asked is a sign of Mr Reid's plight: every minister forced from office under Mr Blair was given his public backing in the weeks before their demise. According to one Whitehall calculation, ministers survive an average of three weeks after No 10's confidence vote.
Talk of a possible departure from office is a far cry from the Westminster gossip of only a few weeks ago, when Mr Reid's prime ministerial potential was the subject of choice.
Mr Reid happily stoked the speculation, using a powerful speech to the Labour Party conference in September to stress his credentials for the top job, using the word "leadership" half a dozen times and quoting John F Kennedy. And earlier this month, he irritated Mr Brown by outlining his "vision" for the Labour party's future.
Strong performances on international terrorism, combined with the suspicion that Mr Blair is secretly hoping for a challenger to the Chancellor, saw punters betting on Mr Reid to pip Mr Brown at the post. But the corrosive effect of those Home Office scandals has eaten into his steely image, and Ladbrokes yesterday lengthened the odds on him from 7-1 to 9-1.
FINGER PRINT PLAN FOR IMMIGRANTS
FOREIGNERS living in Britain will have to register with the government and be fingerprinted, or face fines and expulsion, the Home Office said yesterday.
As part of a new bill aimed at tightening control of Britain's borders, immigration officials will also be put in uniform.
The bill includes measures to accelerate the expulsion of foreign criminals from Britain. But critics seized on a clause that would give such criminals the right of appeal, something that could theoretically delay expulsion attempts still further
The fingerprinting plan is part of the proposed national ID card scheme, which ministers have said would be applied to foreign nationals before UK citizens.
The Home Office said the new laws would cut illegal immigration and make Britain safer.
But Conservatives claim the bill, the government's sixth in ten years, shows ministers had run out of ideas: "There is no reason to believe that John Reid's tough rhetoric will translate into effective action this time," said a source.
And Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, criticised the government's "continuing desire to create new legislation"
He said: "Questions remain as to why existing powers - notably against unscrupulous employers of illegal workers - are so poorly enforced."