13 November 2023

Why the Tories’ electoral future is in the new Home Secretary’s hands


The shock return of former PM David Cameron to frontline politics seems to have eclipsed appointment of James Cleverly as Home Secretary. However, the latter will prove far more significant for the Conservatives’ long-term electoral prospects.

Cleverly’s predecessor, Suella Braverman, sealed her fate with a recent op-ed in the Times. The article, while raising reasonable concerns over so-called ‘two-tier policing’, also included a reckless foray into Northern Irish history at a time when the power sharing arrangement in Stormont is in peril. While the former Home Secretary also made robust interventions over matters of immigration, integration, and demography, the practical matter of policy delivery was missing. Taking aim at the ‘tofu-eating wokerati’ matters little if you fail to deliver the goods. So how can Cleverly make his mark and play his part in trying to overturn his party’s currently dire position in the polls?

One matter of urgency for the newly-appointed home secretary is addressing the matter of the Met’s policing in relation to protests and demonstrations in London – Cleverly’s place of birth. Braverman’s characterisation of pro-Palestine protests as ‘hate marches’ was unhelpful, as was her authoritarian desire to ban them. Of course, antisemitic chanting, displaying pro-terror paraphernalia, and howling direct incitements to targeted violence should be met with robust policing and face the full force of the law. This instruction needs to be made clear by the new Home Secretary – but the selective banning of pro-Palestine demonstrations threatens to undermine social cohesion at a time where tensions are already running high. It also unhelpfully risks alienating the many patriotic and law-abiding British Muslims who legitimately care about the cause of Palestinian statehood and self-determination.

This neatly weaves into my next point on multiculturalism and integration. In recent times, we have witnessed the troubling rise of the identitarian state. Tribal and unrepresentative opportunists have been given positions of decision-making influence over the governance of the public sphere. In recent times, ‘anti-extremism’ public funding under the Prevent scheme has been allocated to organisations which do not have social cohesion at heart – even appearing to express sympathies with foreign regimes such as the Taliban in Afghanistan. In some cases, we have even seen the outsourcing of law and order responsibilities to so-called ‘community leaders’ who are as self-serving as they are disinterested in peaceful social relations. The new Home Secretary needs to take practical action on how to arrest the rise of tribal identity politics in our state structures relating to law and order.

Immigration and asylum policy is the one area where the gap between Tory hard hitting rhetoric and successful policy results is at its widest – presenting a stern challenge for the new Home Secretary. The line between economic migrants seeking opportunities and genuine refugees at risk of death and persecution has become increasingly blurred. The ongoing small boats crisis needs calls for a ramping up of efforts to dismantle international people-smuggling networks (with the National Crime Agency working closely with counterparts in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium). Cleverly may be well positioned to coordinate (now he is the elected officer responsible for the NCA who has useful experience as Foreign Secretary). There is also no reason why stiffer penalties cannot be introduced for those who knowingly employ illegal migrants or those who house them (often in crowded accommodation). Cleverly needs to focus on an ‘achievable’ law and order conservatism where people can see the results for themselves – including left-leaning traditionalists who want tougher action against such human traffickers, exploitative business owners, and unscrupulous landlords.

There is no denying that the new Home Secretary has his work cut out for him. But he must not fall into the trap of his predecessors who believed they could get the British people on side by constantly accusing the supposed alliance of the Labour Party, ‘leftie lawyers’, NGOs, and human rights activists for thwarting the government’s agenda. The evidence suggests that it is not an electorally sound strategy.

Cleverly – an Army veteran who seems to pride himself on an image of being a serious goal-oriented politician – must be exactly that in his new role of Home Secretary.

Much of the responsibility of reviving the Tories’ electoral hopes now rests on his shoulders.

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Dr Rakib Ehsan is a senior research associate at the Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life (IIFL).

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.