Theresa May is interviewed after addressing The College of Policing Conference on October 24, 2013 in Bramshill. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Is Theresa May's luck finally running out?

After the loss of her special adviser, the Home Secretary is now under attack over a huge backlog of passport appplications.

One of the most impressive things about Theresa May's ascent is that she has been Home Secretary throughout this period. The department known as the graveyard of ministers is traditionally one of the least promising berths for a leadership hopeful. But while New Labour got through four home secretaries in four years, May will this month become the longest-serving holder of the post since Rab Butler more than 50 years ago.

Yet this achievement has at least as much to do with luck as it does with  judgement. As Richard Morris previously noted on The Staggers, May's reputation as "a safe pair of hands" is a flat-out myth. There was the time she was forced to admit that "we will never know how many people entered the UK who should have been prevented from doing so", and the time she wrongly claimed that an illegal immigrant was able to avoid deportation due to owning a cat, not to mention the botched police commissioner elections and the "go home" vans. Yes, crime has fallen, but that is a decades-long trend that May can take little personal credit for (that she has done, and has protected her "safe hands" image is a tribute to her political operation).

In the twilight of the parliament, however, there are signs that her luck is finally running out. After already being humbled by the forced resignation of her special adviser Fiona Cunningham, she now finds herself fighting on another front. After the government denied reports of a huge backlog of passport applications (with MPs receiving hundreds of complaints from constituents), a photograph was leaked to the Guardian appearing to confirm the reverse. It shows hundreds of files, stuffed with applications, being held in a room usually reserved for meetings.

The PCS union says that there are 500,000 cases waiting to be processed and blames job cuts and office closures. General secretary Mark Serwotka warns: "There are clearly very major problems in the Passport Office and there are simply not enough staff to cope with the applications that are coming in."

The defence offered by May and Paul Pugh, the interim chief executive of the Passport Office, is that the service is experiencing "unprecedented" demand due to the economic recovery and a rise in holiday bookings. They insist that 97 per cent of applications have been processed within the three-week target. But even if true, that will be little consolation to the 3 per cent left waiting. Shadow immigration minister David Hanson notes: "Even according to the government's own statistics, 90,000 passport cases haven't been dealt with on time this year, so there is simply overwhelming evidence that families across the country are suffering needless stress, anxiety and problems simply because of mismanagement at the Home Offfice."

The immediate pressure has fallen on Pugh, who has been ordered to appear before the home affairs select committee next week and advised to make a "graceful exit" by Geoffrey Robinson. But May is under fire too. In the Commons yesterday, Yvette Cooper rebuked her for "taking her eye off the ball" and spoke of people "in a state of panic" about whether they would be able to go on foreign holidays or business trips.

As May will know, the Tories are at their most vulnerable when they are being attacked for incompetence, rather than wickedness. Should she fail to demonstrate sufficient "grip", her forward march could be permanently halted.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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