“Some mistakes were made… and I have been elected as leader of my party and your prime minister, in part, to fix them.” In his coronation speech on Tuesday, Rishi Sunak tried to reassure the public that they were, at long last, in safe hands. Promising a new dawn of stability, competence and maturity, the fifth prime minister in six years insisted that the unprecedented carousel of chaos was behind us.
Finally, we were told, the grown-ups are back in charge. Grown-ups like Jeremy Hunt, whose cuts to health and social care between 2010 and 2017 have been linked to 120,000 excess deaths, and Kemi Badenoch, who used her first appearance as women and equalities minister to publicly attack the CEO of Pink News, the UK’s most read LGBT+ publisher. Perhaps the most chilling example of Rishi Sunak’s definition of maturity, however, came in the re-appointment of the home secretary, Suella Braverman.
Two weeks ago, I reacted to the news of Braverman’s resignation from Liz Truss’s government. Many of us hoped – without holding our breath – that her departure would signal the death of her lifelong dream: to witness a flight sending refugees to Rwanda.
Refugees were not the only target of Braverman’s persecution. So, too, was anybody who sought to vocalise their dissent on the streets. In passing the Public Order Bill, the home secretary gave the police greater powers to crack down on protesters, including anybody “likely” to cause “serious disruption” or prevent access to “essential” services.
In a premiership otherwise dogged by melodrama, it was the home secretary who provided Liz Truss’s government with substance. Unfortunately, this substance was an anti-migrant and authoritarian assault.
Indeed, waging such a wide-reaching war in the space of six weeks is no mean feat. Nor, for that matter, is returning to government just six days after resigning from the last one. Following Rishi Sunak’s decision to reappoint her as home secretary this week, most of the media attention has focused on her reason for resigning: breaching the ministerial code by sending sensitive government information via her personal email.
Of course, we should demand the highest standards from ministers; it is right to point out the contradiction between Braverman’s reappointment and her new boss’s commitment to “professionalism”. Personally, however, it is the conflict between her ideology and our collective humanity that fills me with the greatest dread.
Suella Braverman is itching to plunge the most vulnerable into a permanent state of desertion and arrest those who stand with them in solidarity. It is her political outlook – not just her Microsoft Outlook – that is cause for grave concern.
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Many cited Braverman’s appointment as proof that, far from fixing Truss’s mistakes, Sunak was repeating them. However, her appointment was no error. In Sunak’s eyes, damaging public trust and undermining internal unity are risks worth taking for the sake of a much wider, reliable strategy. This is a strategy that scapegoats the most vulnerable for the crises the Tories have created. A strategy that suppresses our right to protest the government’s cruel response. A strategy of divide and rule.
Those in opposition have a choice. They can either play the Tories at their own game, convincing the public that they can deport refugees more efficiently and arrest protesters more fervently. Or they can offer an alternative, promising to build a humane immigration system grounded in compassion, dignity and care, and to listen to – not lock up – those who are demanding urgent solutions to the most pressing crises of our times.
The next election cannot be about competence. After all, Rishi Sunak is no pragmatist. In reappointing Suella Braverman, he has emboldened a home secretary to launch a vicious attack on the most vulnerable and a draconian assault on our democratic rights. We have a collective responsibility to resist – before it’s too late.
Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North and served as leader of the Labour Party from 2015 to 2020