It was appropriate enough that Suella Braverman was fighting for her political life on Monday. It was Halloween, and she had already returned from the dead. The zombie home secretary only had to spend six days in her own grave before Rishi Sunak, in his infinite wisdom, dragged her out again.
He really does seem to think that things are going to be different now. More serious, more professional, more accountable. But, you know, there are still very desperate people chucking letters in bottles over the edge of a compound in Kent where there have been outbreaks of diphtheria and scabies.
And he still, entirely self-evidently, thinks these people’s little lives are of significantly less importance than the successful management of the Conservative Party – and more specifically, his inalienable right to lead it.
Clearly, Sunak thought bringing Braverman back to the Home Office was necessary to ensure that he could see off Boris Johnson. And it worked. But it’s not working out so well any more, is it?
George W Bush posited in his memoir, with some plausibility, the argument that if he really had known all along that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would he really have decided to completely destroy his reputation, knowing that none would be found?
His critics suggest that what really happened is that he didn’t have the strategic brainpower to look that far ahead. Sunak finds himself in the same position, the victim of his own naivety in thinking that an entirely ridiculous decision to bring back a home secretary six days after her resignation was something that could be worried about later.
This week, as the Bank of England jacked up the base rate by 0.75 percentage points, homeowners are still having to pay what has been described as a “moron premium” on their mortgages (the moron in question being Kwasi Kwarteng).
Sunak has made it over the finish line in first place, but he is paying a moron premium too: the moron this time is Suella Braverman.
It is, in some ways, to Braverman’s credit that her most recent failings in office are already so significant that no one is even talking, now, about the entirely unrelated other failing for which she was forced to resign barely a fortnight ago.
No one seems to care that much any more about her having endangered national security by accidentally forwarding classified documents to a complete stranger, then emailing them again to ask them to “pls delete and ignore”. She has already surpassed herself.
People are now more concerned at the utter failure of her asylum policy, which has resulted in 4,000 people being held for weeks at a processing centre designed for 1,600 people to be kept at for no more than a few hours.
The trouble with the asylum debate, in general, is that extreme voices dominate, and in a more extreme way than in most other debates. Some refuse to countenance the notion that anybody arriving in Kent on a dinghy could possibly be doing anything in any way untoward. Others believe that these migrants should be all be sent back, or ideally drowned.
The knotty area in the middle is where politics is meant to happen, but we have, yet again, a home secretary incapable of engaging with the complexity required. She has been selected solely to pacify the rabid extremes of the Tory party, despite the fact that the party’s own polling shows her to be the least popular person among Tory members in the entire government(*).
(*apart from Sir Gavin Williamson, obviously, but he skews the statistics so badly that there is little point including him. His numbers on hopelessness and loathing are so extreme they should be asterisked in the record books, like those East German swimmers in the 1970s.)
All she can do is what she did on Thursday, which is fly 19 miles from Dover to Manston in a Chinook helicopter, be photographed pointing at the problem, and then go home again.
We are all used to egregious political photo shoots, but Braverman breaks new records. It was Margaret Thatcher, many years ago, who worked out that if you wanted to get your message across on the television news, you also had to provide interesting pictures for the news channels to use. Hence the hard-hat, hi-vis era was born.
Where Braverman has broken new ground is that she has done the dressing up bit, but not the message bit. She has done the cosplay, but not provided any accompanying words. No journalist was permitted to point a camera in her direction. No questions were allowed to be asked.
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If anyone wanted to have a clue what was going on, all they could do was call up the Home Office and be told that the home secretary had gone up in a military helicopter because she wanted to survey the Channel, to see the small boats in action. But she had also chosen to do it during extremely bad weather, so there were none there to be seen.
No one is expecting Braverman to do anything meaningful to solve anything. It is all very obviously beyond her. We are dealing with someone who resigned after six weeks for a) breaching the rules by secretly forwarding emails to people not entitled to see them, but also b) being so toweringly thick as to fail to pull off this rather straightforward subterfuge (not to mention the fact that she sent said emails to the wrong people).
Having hopeless but loyal people in important positions – and not caring a toss for the consequences – is the Johnson way. If Sunak actually wants things to be different, rather than saying things will be different, he cannot afford to keep paying the Braverman premium for much longer. Nor can the thousands of people in tents on the Kent tarmac – but on the evidence so far, nobody actually cares about them.
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