– The senior British government minister who included U.S. radio talk show host Michael Savage on a list of people banned from the U.K. for “stirring up hatred” may lose her post in a forthcoming cabinet reshuffle.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has courted controversy in her position, which focuses on law and order, but the threat to her cabinet career stems from a dispute over housing expenses claims, according to reports in Fleet Street tabloids Wednesday.
The expenses row was exacerbated earlier this year by the embarrassing revelation that her husband, Richard Timney, had included the cost of two pornographic pay-per-view movies on Smith’s parliamentary expenses claim.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labor Party anticipates a pounding in local government and European Parliament elections to be held on June 4.
In the local election, all 27 county councils in England are being contested. Labor currently holds only four of them, compared with 19 controlled by the Conservatives, and those four Labor seats are expected to change hands in what some experts are predicting will be Labor’s worst showing in 30 years.
A cabinet shake-up will almost certainly follow quickly as the embattled prime minister tries to restore credibility ahead of the next general election, which must be held by June 2010 but could take place this year.
Several newspapers, citing unnamed government sources, put Smith at the top of the list of ministers expected to get the boot.
Apart from the expenses row, Smith has become a lightning-rod for unhappiness over government security policies that critics say will threaten civil liberties. They include an unpopular and costly scheme to issue Britons with identity cards and plans for a database that will keep DNA records of convicted criminals – as well as records of people who are arrested but never convicted – for years.
The issue of excluding undesirable visitors has brought the government more unwelcome controversy.
Last October, Smith announced the tightening of regulations to allow the government to bar entry to foreigners who provoke extremism and hatred.
She came under fire in February when, invoking those new rules, she denied
Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders a visa. The move to bar Wilders, a critic of Islamist radicalism, sparked a diplomatic row with the Netherlands.
The opposition Conservative Party then noted that no such restrictions had been placed on a spokesman for the radical Lebanese group Hezbollah, who was due to address an academic seminar in London in March. Facing accusations of employing double standards, Smith then banned Ibrahim Moussawi too.
On Tuesday, Smith for the first time published a list of people she said had been banned from the U.K. for fostering hatred or extremism since the regulations were tightened last October.
“Coming to the U.K. is a privilege and I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life,” she said. “I will not hesitate to name and shame those who foster extremist views as I want them to know that they are not welcome here.”
Of the 16 names released, half are Islamic radicals or terrorists while the rest include Russian skinhead gangsters, white supremacists, a militant Israeli settler, anti-homosexual activists – and the host of the nationally-syndicated “Savage Nation” talk show.
Smith said she was publicizing the names to signal what type of behavior Britain was not prepared to tolerate. She said the full list currently stood at 22, but cited “public interest” reasons, without elaborating, for not releasing the other six names.
(Having been barred in March, Moussawi is evidently one of the six, although the reason for not disclosing his name is unclear. Britain last March said it was re-establishing official contacts with Hezbollah’s “political wing.” The Shi’ite group expects to do well in Lebanon’s general elections next month.)
In its statement listing the “hate promoters excluded from the U.K.” Smith’s Home Office described Savage as follows: “Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behavior by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence.”
The provocative talk show host hit back at his inclusion on the blacklist, threatening during his show on Tuesday to sue Smith.
“They linked me up with Russian skinheads who had murdered 10 people, Islamists who had smashed in the heads of Jewish children with rifle butts [a reference to Lebanese terrorist
, released from an Israeli jail last year],” Savage said. “How could they put Michael Savage in the same league with mass murderers when I have never avowed violence?”
“This lunatic Jacqui Smith, in my opinion, has defamed me, and if possible, I will sue her personally,” he said.
British media outlets have picked up on Savage’s remark that he had not even been planning to visit Britain. Similarly, the two Russian skinheads listed are both serving 10-year prison sentences. The Home Office was unable to say how many of the 22 people listed actually wanted to visit.
The conservative Daily Mail
opined that Smith’s initiative “appears to have backfired spectacularly at a time when her job is already hanging by a thread after a string of expense scandals.”
In the left-wing Guardian
, a commentator wrote that Smith was evidently planning to use the exclusion of Savage, who has criticized Islam, as “a fig leaf” when faced with future complaints about the banning of a Muslim figure.
In 2007, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) complained after Savage on his program called the Koran a “book of hate” and a “document of slavery and chattel.”