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Artillery Row

Braverman’s broadside

Does Suella have a plan to save the Conservatives?

At one point in Suella Braverman’s speech this afternoon, a rumble of discontent emerged from other MPs. Braverman swung her gaze around like a gunman taking aim. She meant business — or, at least, she wanted to behave as if she did.

Braverman’s speech was an ice-cold assault on the obstruction of government policies meant to control immigration. Human rights law, she said, was being “interpreted elastically … to literally prevent our Rwanda plan from getting off the ground”.

The tone of the speech was suitably apocalyptic. “The Conservative Party faces electoral oblivion in a matter of months if we introduce yet another bill destined to fail,” Braverman concluded, “Do we fight for sovereignty or do we let our party die?”

Frankly, I think the party is doomed either way. Too much damage has been done. The Conservatives are always reacting to their own catastrophic failures — desperately scrambling to fill the holes that their own ineptitude and complacence have created. 

Had the party not allowed countless thousands of students, low-skilled workers, dependents et cetera to stream in throughout its thirteen years in power, there would be no need to limit the number of British citizens’ foreign spouses settling in the country — an implication of this week’s salary threshold hikes that has been as controversial as anyone could have guessed.

At this point Rishi Sunak could be standing on the cliffs of Dover himself fending off small boats with a giant stick and I doubt that it would make much difference.

This is not to say that the Conservatives should do nothing

This is not to say that the Conservatives should do nothing. British sovereignty, after all, is more important than their political prospects. Britain living is a great deal more significant than the Conservative Party dying. Mrs Braverman is right that the Tories should be taking radical measures to secure the nation’s borders, giving Labour no excuse to tolerate their decline into irrelevance. Ideally, this would have involved taking the boats back to France as a matter of course — a preferable solution to the convoluted Rwanda plan. 

This would have ensured that there was far less need for the “Nightingale-style detention centres” Braverman envisages — a reference to the Conservatives’ COVID-era temporary hospitals that nonetheless sounded awkward in its accidental invocation of the famous nurse. We need places to house migrants but it’s still hard to imagine Florence Nightingale manning the doors. Again, the Conservatives are in the kitchen promising to put out the fire they started.

Was Braverman positioning herself for a future leadership run? Certainly, she has done all she can to separate herself from Tory failure. This could never be entirely successful, inasmuch as she has been in the upper ranks of the Conservatives for years, but the belief that she was pushing Sunak for cuts to legal as well as illegal migration has at least made her look ahead of the curve.

Right-leaning Conservatives apparently met last night with resignations on the table. Attempting to replace Sunak would be suicidal — like seizing control of a bus as it plunges off the edge of a cliff. But leaping out with a parachute before it hits the ground might make political sense.

Any leadership challenger would be wise, though, not to focus too much on “looking tough”. Voters want tough action on the issues that matter, of course, but performative toughness achieves very little and incentivises short-termist and ill-considered policies. It matters more to seem confident and in control — someone you can place at least a bit of trust in. That’s how Tony Blair won three elections while ruining the country, anyway — or, at least, it helped.

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