Back in 2006, when he took over from Charles Clarke at the Home Office, John Reid famously declared that the Home Office was “not fit for purpose”. It is hard to escape the conclusion that little has changed in the intervening twelve years.
Amber Rudd’s resignation last night further burnishes the department’s reputation as a political graveyard. She took an honourably course of action, having concluded that there was too much evidence that she had “inadvertently” misled the Home Affairs Select Committee last week on the subject of deportation targets. In any normal political environment she might have weathered the storm, but the almost daily leaks and revelations about the Windrush scandal built up to such an extent that since Thursday her departure seemed more and more inevitable. However, few saw it coming last night. This tweet was posted just four minutes before the resignation was announced…
It’s become easier to imagine the end of the world than a Tory minister resigning for probably lying – we are at peak neoliberalism
— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) April 29, 2018
Amber Rudd’s biggest mistake, perhaps, was to indirectly blame Home Office civil servants for the Windrush scandal. That didn’t go down well, and they felt it gave them licence to leak. And leak they did. Almost daily. It was political death by a thousand cuts. It was very reminiscent of the departure of Charles Clarke in 2006. One revelation after another led to pressure which no politician could withstand.
Whoever succeeds Amber Rudd will need to show a much greater attention to detail, and leave no briefing paper unread. Any minister is reliant on their private office to point out what they need to read and what they don’t, and on the face of it she was let down by her civil servants and her special advisers. Theresa May survived for six years as Home Secretary in part because she had three very powerful special advisers who acted as her enforcers and her eyes and ears. Amber Rudd needed the equivalents of Nick Timothy, Fiona Hill and Stephen Parkinson. But in the end the buck stops on the Home Secretary’s desk, and she cops the blame. This shouldn’t deflect from the fact that the new Home Secretary will need to show an iron grip.
The reason most commentators felt that Amber Rudd might well survive was that it was in the Prime Minister’s interest for her to do so. All the policies which Amber Rudd was under attack for were dreamt up during Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary. In a sense, Rudd was acting as the Queen Bee’s praetorian guard, or human shield. That shield has now been shattered. The Opposition will now be marshalling its political forces for an all-out attack on the Prime Minister. Although Number Ten may be thanking their lucky stars that Diane Abbott is Shadow Home Secretary rather than Yvette Cooper, but they shouldn’t be too complacent. In the last few weeks Diane Abbott has demonstrated a much overdue ability to get under the skin of the government and to explain her points in media interviews.
Twitter has gone into overdrive predicting who the new Home Secretary will be, with Sajid Javid the overwhelming favourite. He and the PM have not always seen eye to eye, to put it mildly, but he’s an experienced cabinet minister and as Britain’s first ethnic minority Home Secretary it would send out a powerful signal of change. James Brokenshire would be the safe choice, given he spent six years as Theresa May’s deputy and knows the Home Office inside out. However, given that this job would be about as tough as they come, he may well feel he needs a bit longer to recover from his operation in January. David Davis might be an outside bet, given that he and Number Ten seem to be at continual loggerheads over Brexit at the moment. He spent five years as Shadow Home Secretary and would have the toughness to do the job, but a move for him might cause other problems, not least who would replace him?
Whoever is appointed should take the job on one condition – that the prime minister agrees to drop the ridiculous commitment to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, and agrees to take students our of the immigration figures. The PM is about the only member of the cabinet to still think the target is achievable or even desirable. It is neither, and it should be ditched.
The detail, content and tone of immigration policy needs a complete overhaul. If the Prime Minister fails to realise this, it means that another nail will have been tapped into her political coffin. The lid may not yet be shut, but it’s closing fast.
There are good people in politics and bad people in politics. Amber Rudd was one of the good people. George Osborne tweeted this morning that with her resignation the government has become “a little less human”. I tweeted this last night…
If your best friend sat you down and said: “I’m going to stand for parliament,” would u in all conscience advise them to go ahead? I’m afraid I would not. What a sad state of affairs our politics is in when even I would try to dissuade someone from trying to climb the greasy pole
— Iain Dale (@IainDale) April 29, 2018
It’s not just Amber Rudd’s resignation that makes me feel this way. It’s a growing disillusion with the entire state of our politics and political discourse. Twelve years ago I was proud to stand for political office. Now, I think I’d be mad to do so, and I certainly wouldn’t advise a close friend to do so for a whole raft of reasons. Evil will triumph when good men sit back and do nothing, someone once said. Maybe, but in the end, we get the politicians we deserve. Social media has polluted our entire political debate, whereas it should have enhanced it. It’s not just social media that is to blame, but it exemplifies all that is wrong in the way we conduct ourselves, and I’m just as much to blame as anyone.
All this means that as time goes by, we lose good people from the political world and slowly but surely the House of Commons is being populated by low quality, obsessive, machine politicians. And I see little sign of that trend reversing. There are a few bright lights on both sides of the House, but the party machines ensure that they are never allowed to climb the greasy pole.
God help us all.
- This article was written 90 minutes before the announcment of Sajid Javid as the new Home Secretary. Finally I get a prediction right!