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Another Fine Mess

While the future’s fraught with hazard for the people of Gaza and Ukraine, back here in Westminster the same applies to the Home Secretary’s prospects. Trivial though her fate might seem by comparison, our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer argues the outcome might be surprisingly far-reaching.

‘Where there is discord may we bring harmony.’ The opening words of Margaret Thatcher’s recital of the prayer of Saint Francis when she made it to Number Ten were carefully chosen.

Her critics and many historians argue she meant exactly the opposite of what she was saying. But it was doubtless intended to suggest she’d govern from the centre.

A contrast that could hardly be greater than what Suella Braverman’s been saying of late.

Illegal immigration is an invasion. Sleeping rough is a lifestyle choice. The police are soft on lefties. Protests calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East are hate marches.

The latest foray, in her much-talked-about piece in The Times last week, got Number Ten in a tizz. And telling her to tone down the language.

But her response was much the same as her attitude to the folk she’s not keen on. She told them to do one.

All very awkward for all concerned. While a succession of ministers have publicly distanced themselves from her, most moderate-minded Tory MPs have told the whips she should go.

Though the official line from Team Sunak is that the PM retains full confidence in his Home Secretary, all that does is prove he has the gravest doubts.

Whether or not to chuck her out, however, is one of those damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t dilemmas.

Doubtless the famous quote from one-time US President Lyndon Johnson has crossed his mind: ‘Better to have your enemies inside the tent p*ssing out, than outside the tent p*ssing in.’

Against that, keeping her in post could make him look like he’s not in control of his own cabinet.

Love her or hate her – which many do – Braverman is not stupid. She knew perfectly well when she defied Downing Street that she risked the sack.

Hence the a widespread view that she was angling for just that. So she’d be free to start her own campaign to replace Rishi when, as is widely expected, he loses the general election.

Some say she’d lose a fair bit of clout once she’d been ousted from the top table. But others argue she’d have a lot more room for manoeuvre.

Certainly, it’s widely accepted that working up a loyal support base is not something you do overnight. So having up to a year to crank it up could work to her advantage.

It’s worth remembering who would choose her for the top job. Not the millions of ordinary voters but the couple of hundred thousand or so Tory party members.

Also worth remembering that their political standpoint tends to be some distance to the right of that of the wider public.

It was a problem for steady sensible Sunak when he was up against shouty tax-cutty Truss.

In the event the crates of catnip for the party faithful didn’t do it for the twangy braces in the city. And the rest, like Liz’s premiership, is history.

Now scroll forward to some time probably next autumn, with Braverman potential front-runner to become leader of the opposition.

She won’t be going down the magic money tree route like Truss, but will instead pitch for good old-fashioned no-nonsense British values. As she sees them.

Very likely then she’ll adopt a tone very similar to what she’s going for right now. And even though many ministers think she’s got a screw loose she does have a core of support.

Cue the Conservatives’ Deputy Chairman, straight-talking ex-miner Lee Anderson.

His enemies reckon he’s cut from the same cloth as the London dockers and meat porters who marched in favour of Enoch Powell’s notorious anti-immigrant rivers of blood speech.

And Private Eye gleefully characterises him as Lee Anderthal, who endlessly goes on about f**kin this and f**kin that.

No question he likes to speak his mind. And his take on Braverman is characteristically blunt:

‘The Home Secretary is only saying what most people are thinking.’

Could be that many Tory grassroots supporters are indeed thinking on those lines. But less likely, maybe, the mass of voters who choose governments rather than just party leaders.

Which brings us back to Thatcher’s, albeit perhaps disingenuous, pitch to the centre ground.

Just as the nation took fright at what many saw as Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing extremism, could it be Prime-Minister-In-Waiting Suella Braverman might seem just as spooky?

Meantime, would-be PM-In-Waiting Keir Starmer is also in a spot of bother.

Though he successfully purged his party of any but the faintest trace of antisemitism, and turned it into a potentially election-winning machine, it’s suddenly split down the middle.

This over the same issue as the Tories. The conflict in the Middle East.

In defiance of Starmer’s steadfast support of Israel’s right to defend itself, a third of his MPs have publicly called for a ceasefire.

And in addition to the one who’s already walked, four more shadow ministers are understood to be prepared to quit, while up to ten others are wobbling.

The opposition’s little local difficulty is not on a par with the Tories’ deeply ouchy moment with Suella Braverman, as Starmer can plausibly argue this is a matter of conscience not policy.

Also worth pointing out there’s nothing whatever he can do about the heartbreaking tragedy currently playing out in Gaza anyway.

Still, it doesn’t do a lot for his credibility as the general who doesn’t tolerate mutiny.

Little surprise then that he left it to the PM to do the talking about the weekend protest which coincided with the Armistice Day event at the Cenotaph.

Though Sunak didn’t want it to go ahead he was overruled by Knacker of the yard, who insisted there was no evidence that it’d turn nasty.

As for whether it was tasteful, given that the solemn ceremony is designed as a mark of respect to those who fell in the trenches, Tory peer Lord Soames had a few thoughts.

Admittedly his grandfather Winston Churchill had a better war second time round than in the first one, but his input feels as relevant as it is at variance from Sunak and Braverman’s view.

‘It’s nowhere near the Cenotaph. It’s in the afternoon and most of these people, ninety per cent of those people, are not there to make trouble.

‘They’re there to express a deeply held view. I think it must be allowed to go ahead, and I think it would be a great mistake to play politics with it.’

Also be a mistake to underplay the pathos of any conflict, wherever or whenever.

Cambridge Uni prof Renaud Morieux has chanced on love letters addressed to crew members of a French battleship captured by the Brits in the Seven Years’ War.

Because they were confiscated by the Royal Navy, the sailors never saw them.

And now, getting on for three hundred years later, Morieux found this so-near-yet-so-far outcome ‘agonising’.

He also said the words written were about ‘universal human experiences’, and anything but ‘unique to France or the eighteenth century’.

Indeed. Plus ça change, tragically, plus c’est la même chose.


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