Rudd Out. Javid In. Where Does This Leave Theresa May?

Be careful what you wish for, said John Woodcock about a prospective Rudd resignation. Now she’s gone, and her replacement has been appointed, many can see the consequences of their wishes.

The cries of ‘resign’ in the middle of a scandal are both understandable and odd. The Windrush scandal was a great wrong. Someone ought to resign just to acknowledge that a wrong has been perpetrated and to attone. It was clear that Amber Rudd was knocked sideways when it hit the political mainstream. As the news rumbled on - and got worse - she seemed to be slowly getting to grips with it.

Now, a new boy will take over. He is learning on the job.

Britain has its first BAME Home Secretary. Sajid Javid was appointed on Monday following Rudd’s late night resignation. Answering questions in the House, he told Diane Abbott that, as the new Home Secretary was also son of an immigrant, she no longer had the monopoly on anger.

In a small way the debate changed.

Javid’s appointment was a surprise on one level. During the election campaign, it was rumoured he was facing the sack. When the result was known, he was one of the few who confronted the Prime Minister. He has a history of standing up to Theresa May - unlike his predecessor.

He is safe now and appears ready to take May on to draw a line under the Windrush scandal. He has pledged to ‘do right’ by the Windrush generation but also maintain a focus on illegal immigration. If he squares this circle, it will only be by disavowing May’s agenda as Home Secretary. His strength relative to his boss and predecessor gives him room to do this.

As ‘action’ was the word of the day and the tone was markedly different, he is in stronger position than Rudd to create a humane system. Whether that is his inclination is another matter.

no room for complacency

Where does this leave the Prime Minister? Oddly, her position might (for the moment) be stronger. Rudd will become a slightly awkward figure on the backbenches. It remains to be seen whether she will join Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry as an all-out malcontent.

May’s appointment of Javid was a bold one. That she did not go for a figure from her Home Office days shows how seriously this scandal is rocking the government: there is no room for complacency.

Karen Bradley, currently at the NOI, would have been a typical May pick. It would have maintained the gender balance in the great offices of state and the Remain/Brexit balance.

As it is Jarvid’s appointment probably shifts the balance towards the Brexiters: a Remainer, he is no Remoaner. While the nuances of the definite and indefinite article need to be considered, Jarvis seems against continued Customs’ Union membership.

Unlike Jarvid, Bradley would have been able to use her Home Office experience to get on top of the crisis quickly. Yet there was always the possibility of the past coming back to haunt her. The Prime Minister could not afford to lose Bradley, given that they had worked so closely together.

And here’s the rub, Ms Rudd. It was her lack of knowledge about regional targets that did it for Rudd. By Sunday, it was clear she has lost the confidence of the House, and had to go.  Her resignation may prove a cathartic moment in this sorry tale, but she did not resign because of policy failure.

The policy failure was one that came from May when she was Home Secretary. She constructed the ‘hostile environment’ described by her successor but one as unBritish. It was her policy of ‘deport first, appeal later’ that led to British citizens being deported in their hundreds, or more.

It will take more than passion to dislodge the Prime Minister

It will take more than passion to dislodge the Prime Minister. It will take facts and a case

It is to Jeremy Corbyn’s credit that he stood against much of the anti-immigrant noise of the last decade. Yet, there is a difference between criticising and coming up with workable proposals - and this is where Labour has struggled.

Also, Rudd’s scalp was not his. It was at the Home Affairs Select Committee that Rudd stumbled. And by already calling for May’s resignation, he now has nothing new to say. The voters will now just hear Labour ding and Tory dong. Tribalists forget that this is when voters often switch off.

Yet if anyone should resign over a this massive failure of policy, it is Theresa May. But the rules for prime ministers are slightly different. Home Secretaries are ten a penny. Prime Ministers are meant to be made of rarer metal.

It will take more than passion to dislodge the Prime Minister. It will take facts and a case. Labour has some of these but not necessarily in working order. Javid’s appointment means the government will try to move on the agenda from blame to cleaning up the mess.

For many reasons, he might have the public on his side. May will do as she does: she will disappear from view. It is leadership by absence. It might be that as the Conservatives extricate themselves from this mess, the Prime Minister praised today by her natural allies for a ‘good’ appointment becomes a weaken figure.           

The fate of Home Secretaries over the last thirty years is interesting one. Rudd’s resignation takes the number who have resigned because of  scandal up to two. Two have been sacked. Two resigned before they were sacked. Two were thrown out of office when their parties lost office. Two went onto higher office in Cabinet. One became Prime Minister - and her fate was the worst of all.

We wish you luck, Mr Javid.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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