Some liberals may remember Amber as the DECC Secretary (ah, I feel nostalgic for that department already) who took over from Ed Davey; who had a letter leaked about her department not meeting renewable energy targets, thus incurring the wrath of environmentalist organisations. Those of you out there who think of Amber this way will be shaking your head at my headline. But let me explain.
Regardless of whether it is a Tory or Labour government, the first instinct of any incoming British prime minister is to have a close look at his or her parliamentary party, figure out which member of it most politically resembles Joseph McCarthy, and then give them the Home Office. One only need look at Blair’s Home Secretaries for confirmation – John Reid and David Blunkett spring instantly to mind. The reason for this is that no prime minister wants to seem cushy on Home Affairs, and having a solidly right-wing person in the job is felt to give them cover.
Perhaps Amber will become more right-wing as she grows into the job. But she’s very much on the liberal wing of the Tories and if May wanted to pick a proper hard-right individual to replace her she was spoilt for choice. When it fell to Rudd I was genuinely gobsmacked. The fact that it was May, a former Home Secretary herself, who made the move gave it an added layer.
There is something in this move by May to retain the centre with appointments like Amber Rudd. It is something for Labour to be mindful of – May means to continue attracting swing voters, just as her predecessor did. It’s like she’s siphoned off the hard-right of her party into all means Brexit only and left the rest of the government to get on with it. Whether that is because she wants the Brexiteers to screw it all up, I’ll leave you all to speculate.
Of course, there are several appointments that will make any liberal shudder – Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary springs to mind – but even these are tactically astute, when you stop and consider them. On this point, you have to admire the Tories this week, if for their organisational ability and nothing else. Dispatching Leadsom, installing May and having a new cabinet before recess is pretty impressive – and that’s before you consider the Labour NEC fiasco and Corbyn threatening to sue the party is the leader of happening as background.
Already it looks like May will be prime minster longer than her predecessor. Her opposition is so fractured that she’s unstoppable for the time being – the only possible exception being forces within her own party. To put it into perspective: she can call an election early and crush Labour, or wait a little while, get the new boundaries in place – and crush Labour, perhaps even more so. The Tories hold every single card.