A pro-European among Brexiteers and a liberal at the Home Office, Amber Rudd has shown herself to be a flexible operator. If things go her way, could she be our next PM?by Gaby Hinsliff / September 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The true test of character, Amber Rudd once said, is how one handles failure.
It’s not the successes that count, but the ability to “adapt and focus your life in the right direction” when fate turns against you. The advice she gave to girls at her alma mater Cheltenham Ladies’ College isn’t original, but coming as it did shortly after losing the European Union referendum, it was surely heartfelt.
The Home Secretary’s own life—privileged upbringing, meteoric rise to cabinet, apparently seamless transition from favourite of David Cameron to trusted ally of Theresa May—looks remarkably untroubled by adversity. But appearances can be deceptive.
In the space of a year, the socially liberal Tory tradition to which she belongs and in which she had professionally flourished has fallen from grace. Tipped as a future leader of her party, she is nonetheless in some ways out of step with it; a Remainer in a pro-Brexit administration, a moderate and a pragmatist in a world where “centrist” is an insult. At times she has visibly struggled with these contradictions.
And that’s why her party conference speech this autumn matters. If she wants to rise higher, then Rudd can’t afford another car crash like last year, when, in the panicky aftermath of the referendum, she wound up floating (and then retracting) an idea that goes against all her instincts: forcing companies to reveal how many foreigners they hire, as if this were a source of shame.
“She’s good company; full of charm, but also full of steel, and very bright,” says a colleague who served in cabinet with her. “She’s confident, but not arrogant. In the post-Cameron era it was not a recommendation to have been close to George Osborne but she survived the transition to May. So the only thing that makes people think ‘hang on a second’ is that party conference speech. If she can give a really good speech this time it would assuage a lot of worries.” Her task is to show that when fate turns against her, she can adapt and focus, without betraying what she stands for.