By the end of the EU referendum campaign, Amber Rudd was probably the Remain campaign’s leading light. As passionate as Cameron and Osborne were, strategists (rightly as it turned out) realised that too much emphasis on the PM and Chancellor would simply trigger protest votes against the Government. The Liberals were largely ignored, Nicola Sturgeon could only rally votes north of the border, and Jeremy Corbyn was… well actually, where was Corbyn?
Rudd was the unifying figure. With a record of speaking out on climate change and women’s issues, as well as a business background, she was regarded as a centrist politician, who could get the message across to diverse audiences.
As the bitter fight neared its climax at a big TV debate, the ‘Stronger In’ campaign lined up an all-female tag team to get Boris Johnson. Referring to some of the questionable figures banded out by the Leave campaign (e.g £350m a week for the NHS) she prodded him with the spiky line: “I fear that the only number Boris is interested in is Number 10.”
More memorably she hit him with: “Boris is the life and soul of the party, but he is not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening.”
Aside from the pantomime of the live debates, it was clear that the close collaboration with Europe was an issue that she firmly believed in. She said: “I firmly believe that we will be stronger, safer and better off as a member of the EU than we would be out on our own.
“Our businesses will be better off because they have full access to the free trade single market, bringing jobs, investment and financial security.
“Our families will benefit from lower households bills.
“Our children will grow up in a safer, more secure world, as we play a leading role in one of the world’s largest organisations from within. Helping make the decisions that affect them.”
So it is perhaps all the more remarkable that she was appointed Home Secretary after the vote went so badly wrong for her. She is undoubtedly the most powerful Remainer in the cabinet. I’d exclude May from this category as she clearly was less bothered about Remain or Leave than where her next job might be!
For those holding out a hope that the abrupt hard Brexit may be tempered by the Remainers in the camp, Rudd’s first announcements proved to be quite a shock. Many might have wondered if she had been replaced by a robot being operated from behind the curtains by a smirking Michael Gove.
She hit the headlines at the 2016 party conference when she put forward the idea that companies should be forced to disclose how many foreign workers they employ. What followed next was what can only be described as a baptism of fire. As well as the predictable howls from opposition parties, business leaders lined up to criticise the proposal. Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that having a global workforce should not be seen as a “badge of shame”.
He added: “Most companies do their utmost to train their workers, engage with local schools and colleges, and look for local hires before going to the overseas market – which is often an expensive and bureaucratic step. Businesses shouldn’t be penalised or questioned for recruiting from overseas when they have specific skills requirements.”
Mike Cherry, the national chairman of the FSB, said: “We do not want to see small business owners turned into immigration officers nor encumbered by new bureaucracy.”
Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the IoD, said: “The notion that employers prefer foreign workers to UK-born is wrong. Employers don’t discriminate by nationality – all that matters is the talent available.”
The most damaging response came from LBC DJ James O’Brien. On his show he quoted an extract from Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, which explained the necessity of controlling immigrant workers for the ‘greater good’.
“For the state must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled in the state, simply as earners of their livelihood there.”
The passage had embarrassing similarities. Soon after, her swing to the right was seemingly confirmed by her decision to block a statutory inquiry or independent review into the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, the violent clash between miners and the police at the height of the Miners Strike in June 1984, described by QC Michael Mansfield as “one of the most violent clashes in British industrial history.”
Although the event happened over 30 years ago, new evidence recently uncovered meant a review would almost inevitably be called. In 2015, the Independent Police Complaints Commission reported that there was “evidence of excessive violence by police officers, a false narrative from police exaggerating violence by miners, perjury by officers giving evidence to prosecute the arrested men, and an apparent coverup of that perjury by senior officers.” Alan Billings, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, admitted that the police had been “dangerously close to being used as an instrument of state.”
Following the 2016 inquest verdict into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, previously censored documents suggesting links between the actions of senior South Yorkshire Police officers at both incidents were published.
So why no review? Is this an indication of the hardening of Amber Rudd’s politics? Maybe. But the fact is that no Conservative Home Secretary would ever sanction a review into Orgreave. There is too much at stake with regards the legacy of Mrs Thatcher. A review would probably discredit the historic actions of the South Yorkshire Police, but no big deal as they have already been shamed by their coverup of Hillsborough.
The issue that worries the Conservatives is an investigation into the role of the Government of the time, and what Home Secretary would ever wish to drag up the bitter, confrontational days of 1980s for forensic examination. Tories may be proud of the outcome in which the unions were emasculated, but few would wish the methods to be publicly reviewed!
As far as the idea of foreign worker disclosure, it would be fair to give Rudd the benefit of the doubt as an idea that may not have been fully thought through. She later doused the flames with a conciliatory statement that forcing companies to reveal their foreign workforce was “not something we are definitely going to do” and was part of a wider review of immigration and employment practices. i.e. let’s try and forget I ever said that.
So what kind of Home Secretary will Amber Rudd be? On her website she declares her motivation is defined by wanting the best for her children’s generation: “I’m a parent and I want the best for my children. I don’t want them to spend most of their lives paying off the debts that my generation ran up.
“I don’t want them to feel betrayed because my generation did nothing to create a society where talent was nurtured, where effort was rewarded, where success was encouraged, where people took responsibility for their own actions and had pride in their own achievements.
“Most of all, I don’t want them to look at us and say, “you saw what was happening and didn’t try to make a difference.” I want a future our children deserve.”
Her maiden speech to the Party conference as Home Secretary concentrated largely on her determination to fight against modern slavery and domestic abuse, and to ensure the legal system offers better support for victims of rape. She offered a vision that few would argue with.
“We will drive through ambitious social reforms that will deliver equality of opportunity.
“Reforms that define the Conservative principle that the things that matter the most are the talent you have. And how hard you are prepared to work.
“For me, as Home Secretary, building a society that works for everyone means that we must help those right at the very bottom.
“I feel very strongly that, as we work to deliver a Britain that works for everyone, it is our duty to help the less fortunate. This means that we have to discuss issues that make us feel uncomfortable.”
If she makes progress on these crucial issues then no-one will care how her politics are defined; all that matters is that she made a difference.
Amber Rudd was born on 1st August 1963 in London, the daughter of Ethne Fitzgerald and Tony Rudd. She has one brother, PR executive Roland Rudd, perhaps best known as the chairman of Business for New Europe. The pro-European leanings clearly run in the family.
She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Queen’s College, and went on to read History at Edinburgh University. Emma Craigie, a contemporary at Cheltenham recalls: “There were real problems in our school house, there were 17 in our year and a huge proportion developed eating disorders.
But Amber was very comfortable in herself, very warm, outgoing, confident, and very, very competitive. I think she got into a bit of trouble on the day we left school, when she tied together all the chair legs in the dining-room.”
Rudd helped to find extras for the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral, for which she was credited as the ‘aristocracy co-ordinator’. She made a brief on-screen appearance in one of the church scenes in the fi lm. Director Richard Curtis said he gave Rudd the job of casting extras for the movie, because, ”She knew a lot of dukes and earls.”
As her career progressed into serious politics, she retained that sense of fun. In 2008 she won an award for her poem on the subject of safe sex. Rudd submitted the poem to the Hastings & St Leonards Observer in a competition to raise awareness during National Contraception Week. The poem won joint first prize in the over-25s category, with her assertion that if more people chose bingo at the beach over unprotected sex, the world would be a better place. Echoes of Boy George’s declaration that he preferred a nice cup of tea to sex?
After university, Rudd joined J.P. Morgan and then embarked on a stint as a financial journalist before founding a recruitment agency. Her business career was not without controversy – or at least it became controversial once she entered public life. The Guardian reported that she was a co-director of Monticello, a company that was at the centre of a share ramping investigation and that, “she was also involved in a company prospecting for diamonds in Siberia, that was traded on a notoriously unregulated stock exchange”.
When a tranche of data, including a list of directors of 175,000 Bahamas registered companies, was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Rudd’s name appeared. The question was asked why she had investments in a tax haven that imposes no income, corporate or wealth taxes on individuals investing in offshore companies.
However, no report has suggested any legal wrongdoing on Rudd’s part.
Amber was married to writer A A Gill between 1990 and 1995, a period when Gill was a recovering alcoholic who was starting to build a successful career in journalism. Although the marriage broke down, Gill publicly declares: “The truth is I adore Amber. We’re still close friends and she’s been the most amazing mother to our two children.”
A A Gill has been in the news recently, opening up about his struggle with cancer. Rudd’s political career began in earnest when she was selected to contest the Liverpool Garston seat in 2005, an exercise which can only be described as character building, as it was always going to be a Labour stronghold.
Her career was fast-tracked when David Cameron took over the leadership of the party and announced plans for an A-List, which was designed to increase the number of female MPs, as well as increase representation from ethnic minorities. Rudd was selected for another Labour-held seat, but this one was definitely winnable. In 2010 she won the Hastings and Rye seat with a majority of 1,993.
Rudd moved to Hastings Old Town in 2007 and she embraced the causes that matter to the town. She sat as a Conservative member on the DEFRA Select Committee arguing for improvements to small local fishing fleets, like those found in Hastings and Rye.
“Fishing is emblematic of our coastal communities and the fleets in both Hastings and Rye are important sources of jobs, skills and immense local pride,” said Rudd. “After a grossly unfair initial allocation of quota a decade ago, which left our fishermen with catch limits which were too small, working to help the industry has been a constant challenge. However, I am now more optimistic for our fishermen’s future than I have ever been previously.”
She has also been a campaigner for improved transport links to the area, and had some success with the go-ahead for construction of the Hastings to Bexhill Link Road. She continues to lobby for upgrades in key rail links.
Rudd’s rise through the ranks was swift. In September 2012 she was appointed the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP. She became the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in 2015.
At the time, political journalist, Andrew Gimson, wrote, “When forming a Cabinet, David Cameron pursues an unusual policy. He likes to promote people who know something about the department they are going to run, and then he keeps them there for a good long time. Rudd was an Under Secretary at DECC before making the double jump to become its head.
“For those of us who treasure the fine old tradition of throwing ministers into departments of which they know nothing, and moving them on just as they start to understand what is going on, this is a disconcerting process.”
Rudd was indeed a passionate advocate for tackling the looming catastrophe of climate change, a fact that did not go unnoticed. Even Greenpeace, not known for their praise of the Conservative Party, welcomed her appointment.
John Sauven, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK, said: “Amber Rudd’s appointment as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate is a hopeful sign that the Government remains committed to implementing the Climate Change Act, and achieving a strong international climate deal in Paris later this year. Ms Rudd was a key player in securing vital reforms to the EU Common Fisheries Policy and championing a better deal for the UK’s local, sustainable fishing sector. We look forward to her bringing the same drive and ambition to securing the clean and efficient energy future Britain needs.”
Since 2015, events have moved quickly, and this year she became just the third female Home Secretary, and only the fifth woman to hold one of the Great Offices of State. After being at the heart of the Blue-on-Blue divisions that were laid bare during the referendum, the promotion may have been a surprise. Or maybe not, as Therese Coffey MP, explained:
“Probably Theresa wanted a safe pair of hands, you can’t get much safer than Amber Rudd.” Big challenges lay ahead but perhaps the biggest worry lies within the party. She may have to get in Boris’ car after all, as she confirmed in her conference speech!
“I sparred with the Foreign Secretary live on television. Now he keeps offering me lifts in his car.”