By Arab News
By Chris Doyle
All political careers end in failure. Some begin and end in it. This may well be the political obituary of Suella Braverman, sacked on Monday for having defied British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, for undermining the police, and for stoking community tensions.
Braverman was a paperweight in a heavyweight role. She had already been fired as interior minister once last year for a breach of security, leaving huge questions as to why she was ever reappointed.
Hate could be her middle name. Her political approach was a perpetual escalation. She was a field marshall in the culture wars that have engulfed Britain, inspired by similar confrontations in the US and elsewhere. Braverman was the most divisive and polarizing British political figure since Enoch Powell. She instrumentalized identity in a way no other modern British politician has done.
To run through all the lowlights of her time as home secretary would take too long. Perhaps one of the worst was when she claimed that grooming gangs were “groups of men, almost all British-Pakistani, who hold cultural attitudes completely incompatible with British values.”
Overall, it was her fierce anti-immigrant approach for which she may be most reviled. Her dehumanizing rhetoric would sit well with most of the far-right movements in the rest of Europe. She spoke of an “invasion” of migrants on the south coast. She claimed illegal migration was out of control but did nothing to bring it under control — if anything, fomenting the crisis, trying to be both arsonist and firefighter.
Domestically, her most incendiary recent comment was her description of being homeless as a “lifestyle choice.” Quite what she thought she would gain by this approach is anyone’s guess. The logic of arguing that homeless people chose to be homeless was lost on most people.
On Palestine, she knowingly and for her own political benefit stirred up tensions on the streets of London by routinely referring to the pro-ceasefire demonstrations as “hate marches.” No other Cabinet minister used such a label, even those who were critical of the march being held on Armistice Day. She wrote an incendiary article for The Times newspaper, claiming quite falsely that some senior police officers “play favorites” over how they handle protests, and ignored requests from No 10 Downing Street to amend it. To their credit, the police stood up to her and refused to ban Saturday’s march, preserving the vital right to protest in Britain. In fact, the most serious violence on Saturday came not from pro-Palestinian marchers, but from a far-right hate mob.
Critics saw her defiance of the prime minister as conducting a leadership campaign while in office. They believe she was daring him to sack her. Would he have the guts? For some time, it looked as if Sunak would not. Despite the pressure, much of it from within the Conservative Party, he stuck with her until her position became untenable.
An embittered Braverman will head off to the backbenches. If her record is anything to go by, she will come out fighting from day one. She still dreams of becoming Tory leader, and most bet that there will be a vacancy after the next election if not before. She wants to be the flag bearer for the far-right of the party.
Where does this leave Sunak? This will not help unify his party, but is that even possible? He would be wise to focus on doing the best job of governing as possible and spend less time worrying about rebellious backbenchers, who never supported him anyway. His electoral chances are slim, but they can only improve with a focus on delivery of what matters to the British people, not least getting the economy on track. All the brouhaha about what have been largely peaceful marches (albeit with a number of vile examples of antisemitism) has been a huge distraction from the job of running the country. In shifting James Cleverly from foreign secretary to home secretary, Sunak has called upon someone who will be far less inflammatory and not inclined to the dangerous naked culture wars of his predecessor.
Part of that process of government renewal should be for the new Foreign Secretary, David Cameron to get a grip on the UK’s Israel-Palestine policy. Braverman, according to my government sources, had a distinctly unfortunate and negative input into this policy brief, about which she knows precious little.
The newly ennobled Lord Cameron will have stature internationally, having been prime minister for six years. He knows his way around the diplomatic circuit. He has international experience and is a believer in the international system and working with allies. He is not a zealous ideologue on the Middle East, one way or another.
Cameron has to boost British support for justice, fairness and the international rules-based order. He should move to resolving conflicts, not stoking them. He also is famous for having described Gaza quite accurately in 2010 as “an open-air prison.” The question will be whether he will be willing to tackle the dominant anti-Palestinian elements in the 2023 Conservative Party, who adopt positions more akin to Likud. Will he challenge the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim elements in his party? All too often these extremist elements just go straight to No 10 Downing Street and bypass the Foreign Office. The prime minister should not permit this. But will he allow Lord Cameron this freedom to have ownership of a reshaped British foreign policy?
None of this advances Conservative election prospects. As they lag massively in the polls, party divisions are in the media headlights once again. But Sunak will have a Cabinet that is more to his liking, devoid of his biggest troublemaker and rowdy rebel. Against that, with an ever-shrinking majority due to by-elections and suspensions, Sunak is having to walk a precarious tight rope — and the sharks are waiting.
- Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding in London. X: @Doylech