You were appointed Home Secretary a fortnight ago today. Immediately afterwards, you were deluged with advice from all comers. You will have been too busy getting your feet under the desk to read any of it. Now that you’ve started doing so, you may get a chance to skim this.
Your in-tray is bulging with issues to sort, but here are five that demand immediate attention.
- Sort out the Government’s extremism mess. You said in your first interview as Home Secretary that your first priority is to “keep the British people safe”. Since doing so is dependent on the hard work of the security services and police forces, there’s not much room for policy innovation here. However, you will want to refine and champion the Prevent programme. In doing so, you could make use of Sadiq Khan’s latest U-turn – though there are so many that we may have missed one since – to now support the scheme. Elsewhere, the anti-extremism bill voters were promised never appeared. Your colleagues were unable to agree a definition. If you can’t find one (and this site has warned that it may be impossible) then concentrate on essentials. That’s to say, backing the new anti-extremism commissioner, and closing the door on Islamist-leaning groups who want admission to government and police patronage.
- Get a move on with finding a post-Brexit immigration policy. It isn’t clear who’s responsible for the delay. Downing Street is blaming Amber Rudd. Rudd’s friends blamed Downing Street. Setting out a policy based on work permits sounds uncontroversial. But if future migration policy is to take trade deals into account, it will also mean giving EU citizens and some others privileged access (assuming that we get such a deal). Not all Brexiteers will like that, but our friends in the cause must take that on the chin. The freedom to strike trade deals is at the heart of a coherent Brexit. The logic of leaving the Customs Union is built on it. And deals will mean bargaining off more access for foreign workers to Britain in our to gain better access for British goods abroad. It will be a tough sell, but such is your mission.
- Beef up your Windrush review. You said in that interview that your most immediate task was to sort the Windrush scandal. This was right, and the reasons for it stretch wider than the problem itself. The Home Office must soon administer that new migration policy. That will be impossible to do properly if it isn’t “fit for purpose”. And if you’re still in place it will be your ministerial head that is on the block. To that end, beef up your review. Get to the bottom of what happened. Strengthen the independent oversight that you’ve already announced. While doing so, never waver from distinguishing between people who are entitled to be here and those that aren’t. Whatever the merits and demerits of proclaiming a “hostile environment” for the latter may be, that approach is what very many voters want.
- Don’t mess with identity cards. The Government has no majority. It can’t get contentious legislation through the Commons. Spending your time on new schemes that won’t cut it in Parliament is a waste of your time and energy. Having to prove who one is by a variety of means is part of modern life – on which point, we enthusiastically back having to prove identity before casting a vote. But there is no prospect of getting universal identity cards, as suggested by William Hague and others, through the Commons. There’s no mandate for them and such schemes are problematic. If the inference is that they should be studied for the 2022 manifesto, then there are plenty of other competitors for attention – for example, looking again at police governance. Crime and Police Commissioners aren’t working as intended.
- Become a poster boy for anti-identity politics. There was a stir when you became Britain’s first Muslim Home Secretary. It was a reminder of the reach of identity politics, some of which is inevitable in modern Britain. (Our readers seldom complain when the group in question is the white working class.) But what has identity politics ever done for you? You made it to the top in politics through ability, hard work and brains. At Housing, Communities and Local Government, you oversaw the Casey Review and got out a thoughtful Green Paper on integration. You now have an opportunity to become a kind of icon for what we have in common – or should have, regardless of politics: patriotism, and the observance of common norms.
That’s quite enough for the time being. You know the rest: reinforce your SpAds (who are very good), let your Ministers shine, don’t knock your civil servants (or they’ll brief against you, as they did against Rudd), get out and about, don’t neglect your colleagues and the tea room. Keep speaking truth to power – that’s to say, to the Prime Minister. It doesn’t seem to have done you any harm so far.
Your appointment was well-received, but you will know that the old truth still applies. What goes up must come down. Especially at the Home Office.
P.S: If you constantly reread The Fountainhead, please stop doing so. No good comes of studying Ayn Rand. As Jeeves said of Nietzsche, she is “fundamentally unsound”.