Not many Home Secretaries become Prime Minister. In the last century, only Herbert Asquith, Winston Churchill and James Callaghan made it to the top of Disraeli’s ‘greasy pole’ and very few Home Secretaries – such as Roy Jenkins, Callaghan and, arguably, RA Butler – found their reputations significantly enhanced while in office. Theresa May, the longest serving Home Secretary has become Prime Minister but is now facing the Windrush crisis and the consequences of decisions she participated in while at the helm of the Home Office.
Amber Rudd’s resignation is more in keeping with the reputation of the Home Office as being a difficult department to handle. Ostensibly, she was forced to go because of her unintended misleading of Members of Parliament during a Home Affairs Select Committee session but the reality is she was trapped by the contradiction between a policy designed to demonstrate toughness on immigration and its consequences as individuals, effectively, became less important than public perceptions.
The Home Office clearly must look at itself and its processes as Sajid Javid takes charge. Quite apart from the leaks to the media, there appears to be a casual approach to keeping ministers informed, made more problematic by seemingly unclear lines of command and control from and to Home Secretary’s office.
Focusing just on internal workings is not enough and risks more of the unacceptable tendency to blame officials. Politicians are the ones who must be accountable and Amber Rudd’s decision to resign demonstrates her awareness of this point and her personal decency.
The real problem is the public policy behind the Windrush crisis. Immigration is a notoriously knotty issue – its tendency for complexity and dependence on precise but often contestable definitions make this so – but policy making is made easier if it comes from the high ground of morality, clarity and fairness. This is the reason the so-called ‘hostile environment’ must be ended now.
Another big policy making failure has also been exposed. It is, simply, the inability to link polices together. Good cabinet government should do this. Instead, to pave the way for such disgraceful treatment of individuals while seeking to pursue a self-styled “Global Britain” with an obvious dependence on a good international reputation is, to say the least, reckless. Government must think holistically when making policy rather than being obsessed by standalone initiatives seemingly crafted to only answer populist demands.