James Cleverly went from liberal to illiberal in the five seconds it took to put down the foreign secretary’s red box and pick up the home secretary’s bag. Many Tories detect the influence of his ambitious former deputy, Robert Jenrick, and suspect that, before he resigned as immigration secretary over the stalled Rwanda plan, the ambitious Jenrick had been the one pulling the new Home Secretary’s strings.
The puppeteer underling had pushed migration curbs not dissimilar to Cleverly’s five-point plan and is a Rwanda true believer – while Jimmy was put on a plane to Rwanda to sell a scam he’s widely believed to consider “batshit”. The third home secretary to visit Kigali after Priti Patel and Suella Braverman prompted a rare Yvette Cooper joke. Her quip that the UK has sent more Tory home secretaries than asylum seekers to Rwanda won pained smiles on the opposing benches.
[See also: Next stop Nato for Lord Cameron?]
Harold Wilson is the latest victim of Keir Starmer’s revisionism. Labour’s current leader pronounced Wilson to be his favourite forerunner when he was standing for the party’s top job – yet Wilson has since been consigned to the dustbin of history as Starmer has hailed the determination of Clement Attlee, Tony Blair and, controversially, Margaret “meaningful change” Thatcher. Nauseated MPs speculated about who thought embracing the Rusted Lady was smart. Blair played an identical Thatcher card so, rightly or wrongly, the finger was pointed at Peter Mandelson, spied days earlier in Portcullis House deep in conversation with chief strategist Morgan McSweeney. One plus one rarely equals two in politics but the resurrected Dark Lord does enjoy being the centre of attention.
Labour’s most popular policy? Abolition of the House of Lords, according to a shadow cabinet minister. Scrapping the medieval upper chamber in 2024 could be heir to sinking Britannia II – which in 1997 won the loudest applause at campaign speeches as Labour pledged to pull the plug on a new royal yacht. But Lords abolition is slyly slipping away to be replaced by reform, and the majority of peers may live another day (at £342 each – the tax-free attendance allowance they can opt to receive for setting foot in the chamber). Thatcher’s ghost might smile.
Even before Jenrick’s resignation piled further pressure on Rishi Sunak, the ex-immigration minister’s stock had been rising on the Tory right as Braverman’s has been dipping. Westminster support for the sacked home secretary is vanishingly small. Meanwhile, Jenrick, sitting on a 22,000 Newark majority that should be safe in any Labour landslide, and his exit from the front bench has intensified Conservative suspicions that he is “running for a place”: preparing to go for the Tory crown in the party’s next leadership race, or to snap up a senior post as a consolation prize if he doesn’t win.
Iron-chancellor-in-waiting Rachel Reeves has appointed the Mid Beds by-election victor Alistair Strathern as her new PPS. He, like her, worked at the Bank of England – a CV line that’s becoming a qualification requirement to join the shadow Treasury team.
This article appears in the 07 Dec 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special