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Do you know how to be tough yet tender? Trenchant yet compassionate? Angry yet calmly receptive?

Can you be completely on top of the detail, yet able to declare your ignorance of various very important details which your department has not yet been able to establish?

Do you offer hope for the future, while also being able to convey your deep remorse for the mistakes of the past half century, and even of the past few months?

Do you yield to no one in your admiration for the journalism of Amelia Gentleman, of the Guardian, while also being able to explain why it is only in the last few weeks that you have taken her articles as seriously as they plainly deserve to be taken?

Or to put things in even more personal terms, are you capable of standing up to an irate Yvette Cooper who is in full cry about the Windrush scandal at the Home Affairs Select Committee?

If so, you may wish to apply for the post of Home Secretary, except that the present incumbent, Amber Rudd, this afternoon carried off the task of standing up to Cooper with a considerable degree of ability.

So did Rudd’s predecessor, Theresa May, who for many years managed the unusual feat, for a Home Secretary, of seeing off all comers, including Cooper, who for a time shadowed her, and now chairs the select committee.

May, indeed, gained the reputation of being a bloody difficult woman, more than capable of standing up for herself in difficult circumstances and against awkward colleagues.

It is just conceivable that Rudd will come through the Windrush troubles with her reputation similarly enhanced. It is as yet too early to say. But she managed to sound, in some of her exchanges with Cooper, like a Lady Bracknell who is demonstrating an unexpected ability to get on top of administrative difficulties which would cause many of us to break down in bitter tears of frustration.

Cooper wanted an answer to the “key question” of whether any member of the Windrush generation has been deported.

Rudd replied: “Not as far as we can see at the moment.” That sounds a pretty feeble line, but she delivered it with a certain Bracknellish brio.

In the last eight or nine days, her officials have been through 7,000 of the 8,000 cases, and they have not yet come across a deportation.

But, she added, “I bitterly – deeply – regret that I didn’t see is as more than individual cases – I didn’t see it as a systemic issue until very recently.”

Cooper (who had earlier done well at Prime Minister’s Questions, where she was generally reckoned to be more impressive than Jeremy Corbyn) cited a distressing individual case of a Windrush man who had been asked for four different pieces of proof for each year he has been living in Britain, and then tried to go for Rudd: “Do you have four different pieces of proof for where you were living in 1989?”

Rudd naturally ignored that rather personal question. But it made one think that for those of us who find it virtually impossible to steel ourselves to fill in even the simplest form, it is more than imaginable that we would put off such a horrible administrative task for as long as we possibly could.

The Home Secretary did not, of course, indulge in any such confession of human weakness. She remarked that different caseworkers demand different forms of proof.

She added that her department does not have targets for deporting people. Cooper said a previous witness had said there are targets, and that caseworkers are instructed to “go after the low-hanging fruit”.

Rudd: “I think that’s extraordinary language to use. Who would refer to anyone as low-hanging fruit?”

She proceeded to defend her department’s caseworkers: “They’re much more sympathetic and compassionate than the way you describe them.” She had  recently visited some of them in Croydon, and had found them to be so.

Perhaps, one thought, the caseworkers are sometimes sympathetic, especially when the Home Secretary has come on a tour of inspection, and sometimes unsympathetic?

And in the background lurked the horrific thought of having to perform any bureaucratic task, especially one on which one’s future residence in this country depends.

That sort of bureaucracy is unBritish. In Germany, one is made to register one’s place of residence at the local police station, but we are by tradition an unofficial nation.

That is one of the things which makes the Windrush affair so unbearable. These Britons were being persecuted by officials, who ought not to be allowed to persecute any law-abiding citizens.

Cooper was, however, having difficulty persecuting Rudd. For today, one felt, the Home Secretary did not look like low-hanging fruit, and it was hard to feel any overwhelming urge to replace her with someone else.

31 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Cooper fails to clobber Rudd

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