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Amber Rudd departs – to a better life perhaps

April 30, 2018


On one level, I don’t have much sympathy for Britain’s Home Secretary, who has just resigned. Amber Rudd is a politician. Dealing with multiple issues simultaneously is part of the job of a senior minister. But as numerous commentators have pointed out, she appears to be taking the rap for the failings of her predecessor, Theresa May.

And Mrs May, as you would expect, has done her best to blame her predecessors for the destruction of the landing cards that would enable the Windrush generation to prove their entitlement to remain in the UK. And so it goes on. If there is a credible alternative to mea culpa, most politicians will try to shift the blame.

Matthew Parris, in Saturday’s London Times, produced a superb description of the activities that compete for the attention of a politician like Rudd. Parliamentary debate, select committees, press, TV, constituency, countrywide travel, schmoozing fellow MPs, late nights going through papers and signing off on stuff.

All that, and constant sniffing of the electoral wind to divine what the voters think. The equivalent, Parris says, of driving a train while facing the passengers. He summarises the dilemma thus:

“I’m not inviting sympathy for these people. They chose the career. I’m asking you to consider that our ghastly British government — that lurching, panicking, sightless, deaf, incoherent, blundering thing — is the product not always of the personal failure of a politician we could name and throw rotten tomatoes at, but of the inherent impossibility of exercising notional control over a complicated modern state, while at the same time keeping one finger firmly on the fluttering pulse of popular “feeling”, whatever that is.”

Not so much sniffing the wind, perhaps. Given the toxic nature of public debate in 2018, more like subjecting your nose to a never-ending fart. Whatever the Home Secretary did or didn’t do, her actions and those of her successor are guaranteed to excite spit and derision from one source or another.

She has presumably resigned on the principle that the buck stops here. She has paid the price for “unintentionally” misleading Parliament. But if the person at whom the buck stops is so bombarded by commitments, decisions and information that she is working 18-hour days, it’s little wonder that she doesn’t know which way is up, especially when issues of right versus wrong take second place to political expediency.

The immediate reaction to Rudd’s resignation is that it puts Theresa May in a spot. She assembled her cabinet to maintain a balance between Leavers and Remainers. Rudd was a Remainer, and if there is no credible candidate for the job of a similar persuasion, the balance of power has gone. By the time you read this, we will know how the PM sorted that little quandary – or not.

More significantly, the Home Office, within whose remit there are pockets of excellence – the security services for example – but areas of disastrous incompetence – the oversight of policing and borders being the biggest – is too important to fail.

If its junior ministers can’t be delegated authority as well as responsibility, as seems to be the case, then it has become too large and complex to be entrusted to a single politician who has to work herself to death and needs the wisdom of Solomon to maintain some semblance of control and coherent direction.

It stands to reason therefore that this critical government department should be broken up into more manageable pieces. And that the people who lead those pieces should not be burdened with superhuman workloads that would cause any self-respecting senior civil servant to go on strike in protest.

If being a politician is a job, as seems to be the case with most of our members of parliament, and not a calling, then the job description should be designed to give the maximum chance of success without turning the incumbent into a withered husk.

Once she gets over the shock of her sudden loss of status and power, and the adrenaline rushes subside, I suspect that Amber Rudd will breath a sigh of relief at being able to reclaim her life.

So for that reason, on another level, I also have little sympathy for her. She has been liberated.

From → Politics, UK

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