Stepping down was the only option for Amber Rudd

Despite rumours that she could run as an independent in London, the former big-hitter had backed herself into a corner

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Amber Rudd, the former cabinet minister once tipped as a future leader of the Conservatives, has announced today that she will be stepping down as an MP at the next election.

Some may view this as the departure of one of the biggest-hitters of the May and Johnson eras. Rudd was Home Secretary under Theresa May, filled in for her in the TV debates before the last election, and was once touted as a possible party leader. She was considered the “kingmaker” of the recent Conservative leadership race, and it was even rumoured that she might stand on a joint ticket with Boris Johnson, due to their unlikely friendship and a sense that their different styles would complement each other.

And yet, for all that Rudd has played a prominent role in the most recent years of Conservative government, her importance has increasingly been over-stated, and her recent moves have left her backed into a corner such that standing down for now is her only option. Rudd wasn’t, of course, the “kingmaker” of the Tory leadership race, nor did Johnson make her Chancellor. In the end, Rudd backed Jeremy Hunt but Johnson won anyway; while others who had backed Hunt were purged from the Cabinet, Rudd effected a neat u-turn on No Deal in the probable hope of being made his deputy, only to be appointed Work and Pensions Secretary.

And then in September, of course, Rudd attempted to make her clout felt again, by resigning from both Johnson’s cabinet and the Tory whip in protest at his removal of the whip from 21 of her colleagues who voted to block a no-deal Brexit. Except, again, Rudd’s importance was maybe over-stated: it made for a bad news day for Johnson, but didn’t permanently rock his premiership, nor did it entice him to restore the whip to the 21.

So there Rudd was, a former big-hitter cut adrift from her party, with no obvious seat for the next election.  It has always been the case that you can’t bring up Rudd’s name in conversation without a mention of her tiny majority in Hastings and Rye (346), or, indeed, a regurgitation of some of her early gaffes about the constituency. If she hadn’t resigned the Conservative whip, Rudd would probably have been defeated in Hastings and Rye at the next election; as an independent there, it was certain.

Rudd herself knew this, confirming she would not stand there again and hinting that she would run in a Remainy, London seat. Kensington, suggested the Evening Standard. Chelsea and Fulham, was the new rumour in Westminster. In either place, she was likely to face defeat as an independent, squeezed between a Remainer Lib Dem and a Conservative, without the resources of the big party machine. 

If Rudd had been back in the Conservative fold, she maybe could have been parachuted by into a safe seat, saving her electoral chances. But, despite some reports yesterday that restoring the whip for Rudd was an option, that hasn’t happened, and parachuting her to a new seat maybe wouldn’t have been possible so close to the election date, with most candidates now selected in their constituencies.

Rudd has simply run out of road. She and Johnson have made peace, but her own strategising, combined with her Achilles heel of a feeble majority, have put paid to her political career: for now, at least. Rudd has form for making a comeback: following the Windrush scandal, she was forced to resign as Home Secretary and went to the back benches, her front bench career seemingly over. A few months later, after what she described as an “adult gap year”, Rudd was back in the cabinet.  That seems to be her plan this time. “I’m not finished with politics, I’m just not standing at this election,” she tells the Evening Standard.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman