She arrived in an insouciant mood, flaunting a patriotic pantsuit as bright as a pillar box. She was wearing, in countryside terms, hunting pink. But wasn’t she the hunted? Hadn’t the hounds run her to ground? Wasn’t she here to be torn to pieces?
Apparently not. Smiling Suella sat on the front bench bright as a button, chatting, waving to the Guardian in the press gallery (that’ll help).
This wasn’t a Home Secretary crushed by office, by rejection, by 40,000 migrants knocking at her door. Caught out in multiple infractions of various conventions and regulations, she demonstrated the greatest of all parliamentary virtues – ease at the despatch box. Cunningly, foxily, she had taken the precaution of issuing a letter this morning laying out her case and was able to refer Members to it by way of answer to their accusations of ‘breaking the ministerial code’.
Perhaps it is heartless to describe Labour’s humanitarian case as wither-wringing. But their account of people sleeping on mats, of being delayed in overcrowded conditions, of being assigned to hotels with inadequate facilities – that only succeeded as long as you disregarded the point made by Edward Leigh, ‘If they don’t like it in Manston, they can go to France.’
Of course, the danger for the Home Secretary is not the humanitarian argument – she is right to think there is a solid constituency of opinion who resent the Channel crossers with all their hopes and pains. No, Suella’s problem is fighting her way through the cat’s cradle of administrative difficulties created by human rights legislation, health and safety laws, council regulations and well-meaning undertakings made by her predecessors.
This evening she was able to stay on her winning ground. She cited the global migration crisis, the 40,000 who’d crossed the Channel this year, the surge of Albanians who now make up the majority of them. She was able to inflect the second syllable of Albanian to carry the meaning “genocidal communists”. That is a talent. She mentioned the £6.8 million a day it costs to keep our illegal immigrant community in hotels (is that £2.5 billion a year?) and the fact that many of these hotels charged £150 a night – rather more than the civil service rate for overnight accommodation for quite senior civil servants.
She said very assertively that she had never avoided legal advice (she had to say it more than once) and that her plan was to make illegal entry unviable for gangs. Possibly via the Rwanda scheme.
When she sat down, a forest of tall, Tory timber sprang up around her. Her party’s Right was right behind her, surrounding her. That was a display of shelter the PM will have noticed. When she sat down she was less sackable than when she stood up.
Yvette Cooper, by turns sorrowing, incredulous, indignant, identified the real enemy in all this, without naming it. She said that 96% of all applications hadn’t had their case considered after a year. That people were waiting 400 days for a decision. Her accusations were taken up by a previous shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbot. That the rate of decision-making was pitifully slow. It had been 1.4 decisions a week and now it is 2.7 decisions a week. She said, far too slowly, “This. Is. Far. Too. Slow.”
Labour can’t name the real enemy because they’ll have to work with it on terms of respect and friendship, as and when they come to office.
The real enemy was identified many years ago by John Reid. As Home Secretary he denounced his Home Office in general and the Immigration service in particular as a useless bunch of idle, politicking, faction-riven, over-educated, passive-aggressive idiots. His exact words were they weren’t “fit for purpose” but the inference was obvious. Now a further charge can be added: working from home idiots.
When Suella said, “The system is broken,” she caused a roar of mocking laughter which sought to pose the question, “In whose care was this system when the breakage occurred?”
She paid it no mind. She wasn’t bothered. In her brilliant vermilion she had evaded the pack. She was alive. Still on the run, but cunning, agile, and quick. She will be much missed.