Chris Marshall: The most perilous job in British politics

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd (Picture: AP)
Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd (Picture: AP)
0
Have your say

The office of Home Secretary, arguably the most perilous position in UK politics, has claimed its latest victim.

With her resignation on Sunday evening, Amber Rudd becomes the fifth incumbent out of the past six to either stand down or be sacked.

The one notable exception is Prime Minister Theresa May, who survived nearly six years at the Home Office. More of her later.

At the very least, Ms Rudd, who said she had inadvertently misled MPs over immigration removal targets in the wake of the Windrush scandal, deserves credit for taking responsibility, something which has been largely absent from public life of late as political resignations become increasingly rare.

To be clear, the Windrush debacle is the sort of shameful episode which demands political accountability.

But if there is anyone to blame for this shambles it is Ms Rudd’s predecessor, the Prime Minister.

READ MORE: Amber Rudd’s resignation letter in full

If Windrush is the nadir of the recent British approach to immigration, then the long and inexorable trudge downwards started with the poisonous “hostile environment” strategy which began under Mrs May.

Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the strategy was the controversial use of “go home” vans which toured parts of London in the summer of 2013 warning illegal immigrants to leave the UK or face arrest.

Last week Mrs May’s ex-special adviser used his newspaper column to claim his former boss had attempted to block the plan.

This version of events, however, is contradicted by the evidence, namely comments made by the then Home Secretary when she told a home affairs select committee in late 2013 that while the initial idea had not been hers, she had indeed approved it.

READ MORE: Sajid Javid appointed as new Home Secretary

To say the initiative divided opinion would be to misrepresent it – hardly anyone thought it was a good idea.

It was even described as “nasty” by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, a man whose own anti-immigration billboard was likened to Nazi propaganda in the run-up to the Brexit vote.

The Home Office scheme, nothing more than a crass gimmick, was scrapped a few months after it began.

An assessment of its effectiveness later established the tactic had been responsible for 11 people leaving the UK.

But while the vans didn’t lead to thousands of immigrants packing their bags, they did help normalise the rhetoric of racism and xenophobia.

This language of fear and, let’s face it, hate was injected into the debate by a Tory party spooked by the spectre of Ukip.

It allowed legitimate concerns over immigration to be hijacked and exploited in the run-up to the vote on EU withdrawal.

All based on the erroneous assumption, as Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has noted, that the British public are a bunch of bigots.

Our politics has been left all the more fractious as a result.

With Ms Rudd gone, the Home Office now has a new minister, its fifth in ten years.

Sajid Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants and the first Home Secretary from an ethnic minority, has already signalled his intent to break with the recent past and the language of the “hostile environment”.

It remains to be seen whether in the cut and thrust of daily politics he’ll be successful or whether the office of state dubbed a “glittering coffin” will once again claim another promising career.