Diane Abbott has proved to be decisive and passionate – just what we need in a Home Secretary

All too often home secretaries become so overburdened by the sheer complexity and ineffectiveness of the office that they retreat into officialese, jargon and hide behind reviews and white papers and consultations rather than getting stuff done

Sunday 24 September 2017 18:34
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You have to admire the fact that Abbott knows what she wants to do in government
You have to admire the fact that Abbott knows what she wants to do in government

I doubt she’d thank me for saying it, but there’s something that Diane Abbott shares with Donald Trump, and it isn’t their dainty hands – it’s authenticity. Of course, fortunately for all of us, that’s all they have in common.

Her policies are a long way away from his – but she does share that instinct to say what she thinks even if it might be awkward or intemperate or just too angry. She is the real thing, tough and willing to take on the establishment.

Is this a good thing? Yes. Because there’s a place for the awkward, the intemperate and the angry. I am not surprised she is angry about what happened at Grenfell Tower; I don’t blame her at all for wanting radical change and the sacking of the Kensington and Chelsea Council that both failed to rise to the challenges – admittedly vastly beyond any local authority – and then failed to call in and mobilise London-wide, national and charity resources as the disaster overwhelmed them. It would indeed probably be better if the Royal Borough were now suspended and matters handed over to Whitehall-appointed Commissioners. I can’t see it doing much harm. So Abbott has gone out and demanded it.

That is precisely what is needed in a Home Secretary – decisiveness, passion and bravery. Why not be bold?

Diane Abbott says events at Grenfell are 'a direct consequence of deregulation'

All too often holders of that great office become so overburdened by the sheer complexity and ineffectiveness of the Home Office that they retreat into officialese, jargon and hide behind reviews and white papers and consultations rather than getting stuff done.

That is where, for example, Amber Rudd finds herself right now over the EU migration mess; and why John Reid, one of Tony Blair’s home secretaries, called the place “unfit for purpose”.

The civil servants running migration, prisons, policing, counterterrorism and all the rest are clever, dedicated and hardworking, but the organisation plainly doesn’t always make the best of its talents. Not since Roy Jenkins left the job has there been what you’d term a “successful Home Secretary”. That was in 1976.

Of course Abbott has an eye on the political main chance – she is a politician, after all – but I’ve no doubt she is genuinely moved, as everyone should be, by the horror of people being burned to death and survivors’ lives destroyed by what happened. When only a few families have been rehomed, that is simply wrong, and those responsible for such failure need to be called out. That is all Abbott wants.

I know she’s been shaky on numbers and policy detail (so has Trump, by the way), especially in the election, but you have to admire the fact that she knows what she wants to do in government, and that will give her a huge advantage if she ever arrives in the big armour-plated Jag to take charge of that department.

I also like her personal story – getting past crude racial abuse and being the daughter of a pupil nurse from Jamaica. She had no great advantages in life (and I didn’t agree with her sending her son to a private school, hypocritically – she is not perfect).

More than most bits of the civil service, the Home Office needs clear, driving, political direction, and I think I know just the woman who can do it. And the name’s not Amber or Theresa.

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