They like her when she’s angry

Kemi Badenoch is the Incredible Hulk of government ministers, roaring her way through the public realm, smashing opponents left and right


Kemi Badenoch arrived in the Commons chamber spoiling for a fight. This isn’t, of course, news. The business secretary wakes up spoiling for a fight, eats breakfast, lunch and dinner spoiling for a fight, and goes to bed spoiling for a fight. It must be exhausting.

She is the Incredible Hulk of government ministers, roaring her way through the public realm, smashing opponents left and right. Many secretaries of state, on a day when they were preparing to defend their reputations in parliament, would consider they had their hands full. Not Badenoch: she took time out on Sunday from attacking the former chair of the Post Office to write a piece for the Mail denouncing the actor Michael Sheen for suggesting that steel workers hadn’t had the best time of it in recent years.

Badenoch has the certainty of the zealot, utterly unwavering, never backing down

The presenting reason for her fury on Monday afternoon was an interview given to the Sunday Times by Henry Staunton, whom she sacked last month from his job running the Post Office. He told the paper that he’d been a scapegoat for the Horizon scandal and that when he was first appointed, in 2022, he’d been told to go slow on compensation payments to wronged postmasters. In response, a “business department source” had told the newspaper it would reach down Staunton’s throat and rip off his balls (I paraphrase a little). If anyone had been in any doubt about who this “source” was, Badenoch took to Twitter on Sunday afternoon to describe Staunton’s claims as “lies”.

Others in government were more circumspect. Kevin Hollinrake, the Post Office minister, said simply that he didn’t “recognise” what Staunton was saying, which is very much not the same thing. Which of us after all, as middle age approaches, hasn’t failed to recognise someone or something that we actually knew quite well?

Number 10 also seemed cautious. On Monday morning there was an attempt to suggest that perhaps Badenoch might not be able to appear in the Commons herself. Probably, Downing Street said, we would see Hollinrake in the chamber instead, dead-batting all the questions into the ground.

Fat chance. “I made sure that I was at this despatch box,” Kemi Badenoch told MPs. One imagined her letting out a roar and bursting through the office door that a civil servant had locked and barred not five minutes earlier. We can only hope she yelled “KEMI SMASH!” as officials scattered out of the way, yelling “She’s loose!”

By the time she made it to the chamber, she had reached a point of icy calm. It should not be confused with actual calm. Staunton’s claims were, she said, “completely false” and “patently untrue”. The interview was “a blatant attempt to seek revenge following dismissal”. She was speaking, it was clear, more in anger than in sorrow.

As for anyone who had the nerve to question her narrative, or to even suggest that, perhaps, ITV’s drama about the Horizon scandal had had a galvanising effect on ministers, they were simply indulging in “political point-scoring” – not something she would ever do herself, naturally.

Her fans will have thoroughly enjoyed it all. They like her when she’s angry

Badenoch has the certainty of the zealot, utterly unwavering, never backing down. Forget about giving quarter to the enemy, she wouldn’t give even a much smaller fraction. If someone disagrees with her about how something happened, they don’t have a different recollection: they’re a damned liar. This is why her fans like her. It’s always great to see someone you agree with give an articulate kicking to your opponents.

But there is a danger to such total conviction. It’d take a braver man than me to say it to her face, but what if – just work with me for a second here, Secretary of State – what if the truth is a little more nuanced?

Take, for instance, Badenoch’s suggestion that the ITV drama hadn’t forced the pace of government action. Not even the government is pretending that is true. Hollinrake himself was making jokes about it on the radio last month.

Or there’s her insistence that she had no idea how Sky News and the Mail found out that Staunton was being sacked before he did. Labour’s Chris Bryant asked if she’d made any attempt to find out how this news had leaked the evening before Badenoch had been due to appear on breakfast television. She replied that it would be impossible to know, because there were thousands of people in her department.

Stella Creasy followed up, asking if it was correct that “the department which deals with employment rights is one where thousands of people know someone’s being sacked before they do.” Badenoch blinked furiously, and said this hadn’t been what she’d said, before saying it again: “There are thousands of people in the department, and it could have been anybody who put it out there.” Anyway, she said, the important thing was to remember that she’d intervened personally with the Mail and Sky to ask them not to report Staunton’s dismissal until she’d spoken to him. It certainly is lucky that she knew who to call.

It remains to be seen how much of this will unravel in the coming days, but in the short term, it has only been good for Badenoch, giving her the chance to lash out left and right. Her fans will have thoroughly enjoyed it all. They like her when she’s angry.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover