Amber Rudd’s resignation over the question of whether she knew about targets to remove illegal immigrants has shown once again that being home secretary remains one of the most high-risk jobs in government.
Although Theresa May lasted more than six years in the job and used it as a springboard to Downing Street, her successor joins a long list of others, including David Blunkett, Jacqui Smith and Charles Clarke, who ended up paying the price for personal or administrative failings with their jobs.
Before the full extent of the Windrush controversy became clear, shining an unflattering light on the workings and culture of her department and Ms Rudd’s own command of her brief, the 54-year had been regarded as one of the Conservatives’ rising stars.
Although her views on Europe – she is one of the cabinet’s most pro-European voices and her brother Roland helped run the Remain campaign – were not to everyone’s tastes within the party, she was seen as being capable, tough and – until recent weeks – unflappable.
In her early years in Parliament after being elected in 2010, she was regarded as being a protege of George Osborne on the liberal-modernising wing of the party, a member of the so-called “friends of George”.
She was promoted rapidly under David Cameron, working for a while in the Treasury and becoming energy and climate change secretary after the Conservatives’ surprise victory in the 2015 general election.
Her growing reputation was further enhanced during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
She was one of the star performers during the main TV debate – caustically taking Boris Johnson to task and suggesting he was “not the kind of man that you would want to drive you home at the end of the evening”.
She not only survived Theresa May’s clearout of Cameron/Osborne supporters after she became PM but was rewarded with the plum job of home secretary, stepping into her boss’s shoes.
Her first year in the Home Office went smoothly enough although dealing with the succession of terror attacks that took place during 2017 was a harrowing experience.
Who is Amber Rudd?
- The 54-year old has been home secretary since July 2016
- She has been MP for Hastings and Rye in East Sussex since 2010
- She won the seat in 2017 by just 346 votes
- She was a Remain supporter in 2016 referendum – her brother helped fund campaign
- She was married for five years to the late journalist and writer AA Gill
- An Edinburgh University graduate, she previously worked in banking and recruitment
- She was credited as a consultant on the 1994 hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral
Ms Rudd earned plenty of plaudits after deputising for Mrs May in the 2017 general election leadership debate, despite her father Tony – a stockbroker and businessman – having died a few days before.
She used up one of her political lives on election night when it looked, for several hours, as if she had lost her Hastings and Rye seat and ended up only scraping home by 346 votes.
She remained in the Home Office after the election and with questions over Mrs May’s future swirling around, she was talked of as a potential successor who could appeal to both wings of the party.
But in the face of daily revelations about the plight of Windrush migrants and their families, Ms Rudd appeared slow to respond and, despite numerous apologies, to appreciate the scale and significance of the crisis.
Previously regarded as having more liberal views on immigration than her predecessor, she was soon accused of making the government’s “hostile environment” policy for illegal immigrants even tougher, with disastrous repercussions for thousands of people in the country legally.
More significantly, she was forced to publicly backtrack on claims that the Home Office did not have targets for removing immigration offenders, admitting to MPs she had been wrong.
The opposition soon called for her head, describing her as a “human shield” for the prime minister.
But there was no appetite on the Tory benches – either from Brexiters or Remainers – for her to go, with three cabinet ministers already having had to quit in the past six months.
The final nail in her coffin was when her claim to the Commons that she was not aware of the targets was contradicted not only by a memo she had been sent by a top Home Office official, published by the Guardian, but also a letter Ms Rudd herself sent to the prime minister setting out “ambitious but deliverable” deportation targets.
Before entering politics, Ms Rudd had successful careers working in finance, journalism and executive recruitment – as well as somewhat incongruously being “aristocracy consultant” on the hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral.
She was married for five years to the late writer and Sunday Times columnist AA Gill, with whom she had two children.
At a recent lunch for Westminster journalists, she responded to questions about her future leadership ambitions by saying that she merely “wanted to stay in the game”.
She will now have more time to ponder her own future in that game from the backbenches and also to reflect on the conventional wisdom in Westminster – seemingly dispelled by Mrs May – that the Home Office is the graveyard of many a political career.