Once more the question of who will succeed Tony Blair arises as some commentators point out that John Reid’s “assured handling” of last week’s alleged terrorist plot boosts his credentials as a viable contender.

Reid stole the media limelight, keeping the public informed on the investigation and on-going emergency measures in a “calm, reassuring way”, reportedly to the chagrin of Deputy P.M. John Prescott, who was supposed to be minding the store while Blair was on holiday in the Bahamas.

Reid’s manner was described in the press as “presidential”, fueling expectations of a possible challenge to Gordon Brown for the leadership.

I have long been in Reid’s corner.

Here are a couple of old articles of mine, first posted in Watching the Detectives. 

J.R. for P.M.? (Tuesday May 30, 2006) 

A beleaguered Tony (don’t talk about the war) Blair came under more fire than he could handle last month, when the Home Office admitted that over 1000 foreign offenders, who should have been deported, were allowed to walk free.

What to do?

Easy, old man: sack the Home Secretary.

Well, yeah… It doesn’t take a lot of education to work that part out, does it? I mean, our Tony’s pretty well versed in the scape-goat solution, isn’t he?

But, I can hear him ask, who do we get to clear up the mess?

Who better than the then Defence Secretary, Blair’s one time political “bullet catcher” and cabinet “hard man”, John “attack dog” Reid?

Many thought former Communist Party member Reid had overstepped his mark back in 2003 when he accused “rogue elements” inside the security forces of undermining the government, after Robin Cook quit as Leader of the House of Commons in opposition to the Gulf conflict.

However, his performance was successful in drawing fire away from the PM, who faced the third degree regarding the presentation of intelligence in the build up to the invasion of Iraq.

He’s currently being promoted as a possible contender to Gordon Brown for the premiership (when Tony finally decides he’s had enough – we have, certainly), and, personally, I think that’s no bad idea.

Here’s a prompt-card sized profile of the man:

born in Bellshill, Glasgow, May 8, 1947, the son of a postman and a factory girl;

attended St Patrick’s Senior Secondary School, Coatbridge;

BA (Hons) History, MA History, PhD Economic History, University of Stirling;

became a member of the British Communist Party, 1973, but left after a few years to become a professional Labour Party activist and TGWU delegate;

research advisor to Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock (1983 – 1985) and Labour Party research officer.

In the current Government he has held the posts of Junior Defence Minister (1997 – 1998), Junior Transport Minister (’98 – ’99), Scottish Secretary of State (’99 – 2000), Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (’01 – ’02), Labour Party Chairman (’02 – ’03), Leader of the Commons (’03 – ’03), Secretary of State for Health (’03 – ’05), Secretary of State for Defence (’05 – ’06).

Currently Home Secretary and, some would say Prime Minister in waiting.

But is he the hardest man in Britain?

Don’t F**k with J.R. (Tuesday, May 30, 2006) 

John Reid, who took over the Home Office portfolio from Charles Clarke less than a month ago, vowed last week, in the face of mounting criticism over scandals and allegations of incompetence in the troubled department, that he would “f***ing well work 18 hours a day” to sort out the mess.

He spent the bank holiday weekend in France.

Don’t get me wrong; I like Reid (as much as anyone can “like” a politician), he’s pugnacious, straight talking and witty – and he’s a fellow Scot.

His timing might have been slightly out; in both practical and PR terms, perhaps “this was not the moment for him to pick”, as a Liberal Democrat spokesperson opined.

But I can imagine what he would say (privately, if not for public consumption) if challenged:

“The trip gave me much-needed time and space to do the f***ing paperwork necessary to put plans into action that will send all this sh*t to bed.

“And, besides, I needed to spend some time with my wife: I haven’t seen her in f***ing months.

“To sum up: f*** off!”

Tony Blair was also on holiday (although he’s not due back quite yet), leaving the other “John” – a.k.a “two shags” – to manage the country in his absence.

The deputy PM, famous for his lack of an Oxbridge education, and his past as a union delegate, was photographed playing croquette, and drinking something that looked like Champaign, on the front lawn of his mansion, not two hours after his boss’s departure.

More flack for Reid (Tuesday, May 30,2006) 

Having just returned from a bank holiday break, John Reid is already bracing himself for another barrage of criticism aimed at the Home Office.

Lord Phillips, lord chief justice of England and Wales, told the Guardian that overcrowding in prisons is “absolutely fatal”, and that courts should refrain from handing out custodial sentences unless absolutely necessary for the protection of the public.

He also slated drug rehabilitation in the community, saying that some users were deliberately breaking the law in order to get on prison help programmes (from what I’ve heard about the availability of hard drugs inside I can think of other reasons for wanting to get nicked, but that’s another story).

“Short sharp sentences” were pointless, he added, and better hospital provision should be made for offenders with mental health problems.

On community sentencing, however, he remarked that some alternatives to prison lacked a “significant punishment” value.

The comments fly in the face of the government’s stance on the use of prison and come after he visited Brixton jail last week and spoke to inmates and staff.

The Prison Reform Trust’s Juliet Lyons said: “Prisoners and prison staff are standing in the wreckage of a system treated like a political football by all those determined to talk tough on crime.”

What do you think John, fit for purpose, or…?

Bomb plot opens door for Reid succession by Adrian Croft