While not an enormous surprise after an uncomfortable couple of weeks and a difficult Select Committee appearance, Amber Rudd’s resignation is extremely problematic for the Conservative Government. Firstly, there is a sense that Rudd is taking the blame partly for the Home Office’s immigration policies which were pioneered by her predecessor, a certain Theresa May. The Labour Opposition is unlikely to stop raising issues over the migration status of the Windrush generation now as they have claimed a major scalp and left the Prime Minister looking very exposed. Secondly, there will be concern from some that one of the strongest women in the Cabinet has departed and not been replaced by another woman. Thirdly, some Conservative MPs who are looking for a softer form of Brexit will be frustrated to have lost one of their strongest advocates around the Cabinet table.
With this final point perhaps in mind, the Prime Minister has moved swiftly to appoint Sajid Javid, a fellow Remainer, as her new Home Secretary. In addition, by appointing a son of an immigrant Pakistani bus driver as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister will be hoping that some of the damaging fallout from the Windrush affair is minimised as far as possible, especially with local elections later this week. This appointment confirms Javid’s place at one of the great offices of state and positions him as a strong contender when a vacancy arises for the top job.
Javid served as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government since 2016 during which he oversaw the revision of the NPPF, launched the Letwin Review on barriers to building, announced a Social Housing Green Paper and was closely involved in the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower disaster. Like many of his predecessors, Javid spoke with considerable zeal about building the number of new homes required to address the UK’s housing crisis but encountered the usual problems of a pedestrian planning system and questions over the political will of councils to deliver the volume of homes required. Javid leaves the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government having laid some of the foundations for a significant increase in house building but it will be up to his successor to oversee the delivery of these homes.
Javid’s successor is James Brokenshire, Conservative MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup since 2010 (he previously served as MP for Hornchurch 2005-2010). Brokenshire is a very close ally of Theresa May from his time serving under her as a Home Office Minister and is regarded as a safe pair of hands who is capable of holding difficult briefs. This was evidenced during his time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during which time he had to deal with the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont and the political impact of the DUP confirming their support for the Conservative Government after the General Election. Brokenshire was forced to stand down from the Cabinet in January 2018 following his diagnosis with lung cancer. After treatment, he has returned to Parliament and this appointment suggests he is ready to return to frontline politics.
Like his predecessor and fellow University of Exeter graduate, Brokenshire is not an obvious fit for Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government given that he does not have a background in local government nor has he obvious experience in Housing and Planning policy – he shadowed the Home Office brief from 2006 -2010 and then served in the Home Office for the next six years prior to his move to Northern Ireland. His professional background was as a Partner in corporate law at large US law firm Jones Day. He is notably an Outer London MP so can be expected to have a good understanding of London’s housing challenges and the pressures on the Green Belt. Brokenshire’s challenge will be the delivery of the additional housing so badly required and he will be judged by many in his performance in this area. It will also be interesting to see how he gets on with his Ministerial colleagues including Housing Minister Dominic Raab who may be disappointed to have been overlooked for a Cabinet promotion once again.