Rishi Sunak didn’t want Suella Braverman as Home Secretary. And she didn’t want him as Prime Minister. But they needed each other. Sunak, because he required her support in the last Conservative leadership contest. Braverman, because he was offering her a route back to the Home Office from which Liz Truss, unfairly, had removed her.
So their alliance in this government was, from the start, based on a deal – and haunted by mistrust (which is why Robert Jenrick, whose views are similar to hers, was sent to the Home Office to keep an eye on her and do some of the heavy lifting). She would say that Sunak pledged her autonomy at the Home Office, but has gone back on his word. He would say that he is the man in charge, and so his will must prevail.
What are the differences between them? Braverman wants immigration to be lower, Britain to leave the jurisdiction of the European Convention of Human Rights and the police to treat far left, Islamist and far right protests in the same way. Sunak agrees with her on the last. On the first, she is closer to the heartbeat of public opinion than he is. On the second, the reverse is the case – at least, if the polls are right.
So it would be wrong to say that she, on policy issues, is any more or less close to voters than he. Which returns one from the political to the personal. He thinks, correctly, that she is dramatising her case to project herself as the next Conservative leader. But anyone who knows Braverman also knows that there’s more to it than that. She believes what she says – so her views are about much more than positioning.
Some would simply say that collective responsibility must prevail and so she must go. But whether this is right or wrong, there are lots of moving parts to the Braverman story. The Supreme Court’s judgement on the Rwanda scheme is expected on Wednesday. Sunak will be reluctant to chuck a new Home Secretary into the mix three days before it is due.
And Sunak is evidently reluctant to undertake a reshuffle, which he has repeatedly postponed. A minority of Conservative MPs strongly support Braverman. A majority are unhappy with the polls and their prospects. The Tory Conference failed to change public perceptions of the Prime Minister. The Autumn Statement is unlikely to succeed where it failed. Time is running out for the Government.
Knock a brick from this imperilled building, and it will shake: sacking Braverman would provoke letters to Sir Graham Brady. The resentment and rancour within the Conservative family, built up over so many years for so many reasons, leave some, such as George Osborne and Matthew Parris, unwilling to see this stand-off in this context, and that of party management and factional manoeuvering.
But there is more to Sunak’s Braverman decision than the Westminster politics with which this article, too, has been preoccupied to date. What voters make of her and of pro-Palestinian protests is what we journalists call a developing story – and pollsters to whom I’ve spoken say that public concern about them was rising before he said this weekend’s march shouldn’t go ahead and she wrote her Times article.
For once again, the British people are seeing Islamist extremism abetted by woke weakness – as they have intermittedly for a quarter of a century, from 7/7 through the Manchester bombings to the maiming of Salman Rushdie to the hounding of a Yorkshire teacher, and the de facto application of a blasphemy law.
Yesterday on the streets of our capital city, people marched with covered faces and Hamas-style headbands, sold anti-semitic literature and chanted that “the army of Mohammed will return” and that “with blood with steadfastness we’ll free Aqsa“. (No ceasefire calls here.) A convoy brandishing Palestinian flags once again swaggered through parts of London. Jews leaving a synagogue needed police protection.
Channel 4 was left with little alternative but to withdraw its claim that the march “passed off peacefully” – the pre-manufactured line of those who would pin all yesterday’s violence on white hooligans. The Met’s verdict is that yesterday’s anti-semitism was “just as significant” as the far right’s “extreme violence”.
Slowly but surely, British people from all faiths and backgrounds are being confronted by a minority who hate the liberal democratic west of which their country is an integral part and to which it has contributed so much. It is bidding to control the streets. The authorities’ response is fractured, hesitant and confused. It moves fast while they move slowly.
And when democrats leaves a gap, extremists rush to exploit it – as they did yesterday. In this sense, the far left, the Islamists and the far right are allies, not opponents: they need the weakness of the authorities to give them a mutual opening – and the menace of each other as recruiting sergeants. The violence is compromising democrats who march, entirely legitimately, to protest about Israel’s conduct in Gaza.
What does the average Conservative backbencher make of Braverman? I suspect that your average J Alfred Prufrock would think that we don’t want tent cities in Britain, but that homelessness is not a lifestyle choice; that some on the marches are full of hate, but not all; that Britain’s multi-racial society is a given, but that our multi-cultural settlement is fraying.
He would also grasp that while Braverman’s Times piece was a tactical error (its Northern Ireland element muddied the waters) it was, almost literally, on the same strategic page as Sunak’s own: after all, it was he who originally urged that yesterday’s march be called off. The Prime Minister needs to keep the pressure up on Sir Mark Rowley – which means getting out in front of the cameras, not just issuing statements.
That Prufrock-type verdict seems sounds to me. There is about Braverman a touch of preaching to the choir – pitching her words to the consumers of GB News, the Daily Telegraph and, doubtless, ConservativeHome. But one needs to reach wider and deeper to move non-aligned voters who are beginning to notice the violence and are disgusted by what they see.
The Wright Brothers triumph over gravity was long in the making. Before them came a long history of failed attempts at flight – from King Bladud through Leonardo Da Vinci to the Langley Aerodrome. For me, Braverman is a kind of prototype: the Ezekiel Airship of the Conservative Party. Something that almost works but doesn’t, at least yet. A kind of right-wing Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machine.
We are waiting for someone, somehow, to help bring people of all kinds, ordinary Muslims not least, into a great political alliance of moderation, decency, sense and, yes, Britishness. Who is this saviour of Gotham – this White Knight, or should I say Dark Knight? Does such a person even exist? Your guess is as good as mine.