Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye since 2010, was a Jeremy Hunt supporter and ardent Remainer – until the last days of the leadership contest when she suddenly had the epiphany that she could cope with no deal. Apparently her last-minute manoeuvre was enough to keep her in the cabinet though, where she stays as Work and Pensions Secretary and has also been handed the Women and Equalities brief.
Rudd has been credited in the press and within government as heralding a “reset” on the disastrous new welfare system Universal Credit. She has certainly made the right noises and tweaked a few bits and bobs to suggest she understands more how terrible the reforms are than any of her predecessors did.
But, as I’ve written before, her rhetoric is rather different from the reality of what’s actually changed in that Department.
It had become a theme in the dying days of May for ministers to simply announce things that they had absolutely no means (and sometimes even no intention) of actually doing. Indeed, I’ve heard that at least one secretary of state felt frustrated because they were well-behaved when they could have just been employing this cavalier tactic to look good like their colleagues – with little scrutiny from a Brexit-fatigued press.
That won’t be as easy in a brand new cabinet, you’d hope. Although Brexit will be in a sharper spotlight, so will the few Remainer cabinet ministers like herself, so she will need to tread carefully on policy as well as politics.
She has, however, so far avoided the villain status of DWP secretaries before her, like Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. If the worst scandals of Universal Credit are already well-told, and the benefits freeze ends when it’s scheduled to end next year, then this may continue.
In terms of the women and equalities brief, this is becoming an area where ministers feel they can make proper progress and leave good legacies (May often mentioned its work in set-piece speeches). Rudd may find she can do her best work in that area.