Many Conservatives have a sense of frustration that the Government is drifting along without a clear sense of its mission or a radical set of policies to achieve it. There are plenty of excuses, of course: The lack of an overall majority in the House of Commons. The “Brexit bandwidth” leaving little time for the Government to focus on anything else. But the main explanation is the difference in temperament between Theresa May and her predecessor David Cameron. A Cameron administration would always have a greater tendency towards reforming zeal than one headed by the instinctively more cautious May.
Given this scenario there are few Conservatives who will feel more frustrated than particular cabinet ministers. They come up with proposals and send them in to be “signed off” by Downing Street. It is not that they are rejected. If anything it is worse. The proposals just sit there.
Until a few months ago the only exception was Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary. He has proved himself a valiant eco-warrior. Rather than seeing Brexit as a burden and excuse for delay he has presented it in positive terms as an opportunity to enhance the countryside, reduce pollution, and improve animal welfare.
Then in April we saw the appointment of Sajid Javid as Home Secretary. His appointment was an indication of the weak position May was in – doubtless she would have preferred someone like James Brokenshire or Karen Bradley who would have been more malleable. Anyway Javid thus became the first Asian, indeed the first from any minority ethnic group, to hold such high office. However since then he has become more noticed for getting things done. When Margaret Thatcher (of whom Javid was a huge fan) became Prime Minister there was much comment about her being the first woman in the job. In retrospect Thatcher being the first woman PM was one of the less important aspects about her – it was what she accomplished that mattered. Javid has already made his mark – including changes in the direction to May’s tenure at the Home Office.
This morning The Times reported:
“Sajid Javid is planning a significant extension of stop-and-search powers in his latest challenge to Theresa May and her legacy as home secretary.
Mr Javid wants officers to be able to stop anyone suspected of carrying acid without a good reason. At present police can do so only when they have evidence that a person is about to cause an injury.
The home secretary is also pushing for police to be able to stop and search people carrying laser pointers or drones. The changes expand powers that Mrs May sought to curb before she became prime minister.
The move is likely to boost Mr Javid’s law and order credentials and marks his latest departure from Mrs May’s policies in the Home Office. Since his promotion in April he has rejected her immigration cap for doctors and nurses and lifted the ban on the medicinal use of cannabis oil.
Mrs May made her restrictions on stop and search a centrepiece of her time as home secretary after discovering that young black men were seven times more likely than young white men to be stopped by police. She issued guidelines in 2014 that by March 2016 had cut stop-and-search rates by 28 per cent. She also resisted changes subsequently.”
For years crime has been falling. But last year saw an overall increase – including alarmingly sharp increases in certain categories, notably a 30 per cent increase in robbery. Under normal circumstances the Government would have faced greater political challenge over those statistics. However Labour are not well placed to do so. In London, where the Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has responsibility, the increases have been particularly bad – an issue which leaves him vulnerable moving towards the 2020 Mayoral election. Nor can Jeremy Corbyn, or Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, easily present themselves to the public as robust and champions in the fight against crime. Yet for Javid to ensure the crime rate starts falling again is a key test.
Then there is immigration. Javid is described as taking a more liberal stance than May. Broadly speaking that is true – and given that he was appointed after the Windrush scandal that is hardly surprising. But it is a bit more complicated than that. Nick Timothy wrote in The Sun this morning of his suspicion that the Chequers proposals would not end free movement with the EU. He thinks that phrases in the White Paper about a “youth mobility scheme” and “other specific mobility areas” could be codes that would allow it to continue.
Javid was a (most reluctant) Remain supporter in the referendum. But he is now emphatic that free movement must end – an issue he has reportedly clashed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, over. It is not only an issue of how open or restricted immigration should be but whether EU nationals should get preferential treatment. It could be justified as part of a free trade deal – as it could for India or Australia on anywhere else. Other than that it would seem discriminatory and illogical.
Our survey indicates that Conservative members are pleased with Javid’s performance. It is still early days for him. However the latest pledge to strengthen stop and search will provide further encouragement.