The handover: An open letter from Jacqui Smith to Theresa May

Dear Theresa,

Many congratulations on your appointment as Home Secretary. If you can find a way to get a pound for everyone who tells you the job is a "poisoned chalice", you will be on the way to defending the police budget from cuts I fear are heading your way.

Please try to resist those who say police numbers don't count – they do. Some senior police voices will try to suggest too much emphasis has been placed on neighbourhood policing and building confidence. They're wrong.

You know as a constituency MP that if people don't think the police are bothered about the things that worry them, such as antisocial behaviour, they won't report crime or act as witnesses. Crime will be harder to tackle without communities. I know you share my commitment to ending domestic and sexual violence against women. But now you will have to make your many male colleagues deliver if women are going to carry on getting safer.

As Home Secretary, I stripped out all but one police target – that they build confidence that they are tackling people's priorities. This is a stronger way to ensure they are really accountable than electing a distant, single police commissioner. As the second female Home Secretary, I hope you'll agree that "big (male) beasts" clashing at the top of each police force isn't the best way to ensure real progress. If you doubt this, just look across the river to [London's] City Hall!

I faced a terrorist attack in my first 24 hours in the job. I hope you have a quieter start. But you will soon be briefed on the scale and nature of the threat facing Britons at home and abroad. It is serious and will weigh on you. There is much you won't be able to talk about publicly, but where you can, I hope you will.

Our work to tackle terrorism is rooted in the values we are trying to protect: democracy, tolerance and liberty. The balance with security provides some of the most difficult challenges for any Home Secretary.

Many lives have been saved by the brave and professional officers in the security and intelligence agencies. They are facing intense scrutiny from the courts and police investigation over torture allegations. If allegations are upheld, there should obviously be consequences. But you are the public voice for those brave people who can't argue their case publicly. Do what you can to protect their work and their morale or we will all be less safe.

Immigration has been a real issue in this election campaign – from the national debates to the doorsteps. Net immigration is coming down. However, you will have a real job handling the expectations as your idea of a cap on migration from outside Europe will cover only two out of five of those coming into the UK.

Don't try to blame the department when your policy doesn't work. The Home Office may have been "not fit for purpose" in earlier years but it was much fitter by the time I left!

Despite our political differences, you have my very best wishes. The job is tough, the pressure and profile will be high and some of the focus on your gender will be irritating. We both know what it's like to be known by aspects of our appearance rather than our record. I'm glad that you have the job – keeping people safe is real "women's work".


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