Theresa May's charmed run at Home Office runs into rocky patch

Rows with key colleagues, loss  of adviser and passport fiasco could blemish her record

The Home Office is known with good reason as the graveyard of political ambitions. Despite being one of the great offices of state, just two Home Secretaries have gone on to gain the ultimate prize of Downing Street.

Theresa May, who is about to become the longest-serving holder of the post for half a century, appears to have bucked the trend. Polls last week showing she had eclipsed Boris Johnson as party activists’ choice to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader underlined how she had enhanced her political standing during her time at the department, building a reputation for calm competence combined with steely determination.

But a lot has changed in the 11 days since the survey was published. Mrs May, the MP for Maidenhead, has been embroiled in a damaging spat with a Cabinet colleague, lost one of her closest advisers and found herself at odds with Downing Street over the use of water cannon on British streets.

Worst of all, her department has been caught unawares by the fiasco over passport renewals, culminating in the disclosure that 30,000 applications remained unprocessed – days after it insisted there was no backlog. Suddenly the Home Office, an apparent model of efficiency under Mrs May’s conscientious leadership, appears to have run into the choppy waters that bedevilled her Labour predecessors.

One official admitted there has been a “sense of panic” in recent days as ministers and civil servants face up to the scale of the crisis. “There have been wall-to-wall meetings trying to get to grips with this. Everyone is involved from the Home Secretary and the Permanent Secretary downwards,” said one source.

Particularly dangerous for Mrs May and her ministers is that they appeared not to have seen the crisis developing despite continued warnings. The episode has dented her image of being alive to problems looming over the horizon. One Tory MP said: “If Theresa gets on top of the problem quickly it shouldn’t do her any lasting damage. But her stock could fall if it drags on.”

The first blow to her image came a week ago when she was rebuked by Downing Street following her public falling-out with the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, over how to tackle extremism. She suffered a serious setback when she was forced to accept the resignation of her special adviser, Fiona Cunningham, over anti-Gove briefing.

Ms Cunningham and the Home Secretary were “joined at the hip”, according to one colleague, and Mrs May fought a strong battle to hold on to her trusted lieutenant.But Downing Street prevailed, much to the satisfaction of Mr Cameron’s director of communications, Craig Oliver, who had a notoriously frosty relationship with Ms Cunningham.

Days later in a chaotic television interview on a Whitehall doorstep, Mrs May appeared to blunder over water cannon. She reacted icily to Mr Johnson’s announcement that he had already bought the equipment for London. At the same time, No 10  was briefing that David Cameron had no objection in principle to their use.

As she pulls any available lever to resolve the passport crisis, the Immigration minister, James Brokenshire, has been drafted in to help. But the pair of them could soon be confronted by an equally toxic problem. The department is under acute pressure from No 10 to ensure new immigration legislation, including an “NHS levy” for foreign patients, is introduced smoothly.

If the Home Office fails, Mrs May’s final months in the job before the election could prove particularly uncomfortable.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballLive! Sanchez makes up for penalty miss to put Arsenal ahead
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all