Keith Vaz has a better nose for a story than a lot of journalists: this afternoon he’s organised Home Affairs Select Committee hearings on the passport backlog and on extremism in schools. Passport Office chief Paul Pugh faced a good old headline-worthy grilling on whether or not he would resign as a result of the current backlog, which he confirmed to the committee was ‘just under 480,000’. He said he had considered whether he should resign, but had decided against it. Later Paul Flynn had another go, asking why Pugh had decided to stay.
‘I’m not sure my resignation… how it would help people in any way.’
Flynn argued that it would give people whose passports had been delayed an opportunity to vent their anger, which is not the greatest argument for a resignation, even if it’s often a bigger factor in someone’s departure than, say, whether the catastrophe is actually their fault.
Nevertheless, things don’t look great for Pugh. He apologised for the delay. But in a soliloquy at the end (interrupted briefly by Vaz’s best chum Michael Ellis, much to Vaz’s disgust), the Committee Chairman told Pugh that he must produce more information on the crisis by noon on Friday, or else be summoned back to the committee next Tuesday.
But whether or not he goes, Theresa May appears to be surviving yet another Home Office crisis. Tory MPs – even those who don’t really think she’d make a good party leader – applaud her efficacy as Home Secretary, partly because she is so resilient. The focus of the passport chaos seems to be on the Passport Office’s head, not the Home Secretary, thus suggesting that she’ll prove her colleagues right again.