Today, Friday 10 November 2023, the political future of Stella Braverman, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom and by that simple fact one of the most powerful people in an increasingly powerless and irrelevant country, hangs in the balance. It is very possible that by this time next week she will have been dismissed, or will have resigned.
That would not be the end of her career, but there is no doubt that if either of those things were to happen, that would take a very different path. In John Major’s famous metaphor (stolen, it seems, from Lyndon Johnson, who coined it when referring to J. Edgar Hoover), she would no longer be inside the tent pissing out, but outside the tent, pissing in. That, very possibly, is her plan As some commentators have pointed out, her best strategy now is to find some point of principle on which she can resign, and be both free, and a martyr (without any significant wounds), in order to pursue her ultimate aim, of becoming leader of the Conservative party.
A happy Suella Braverman, delighted to be, once again, the focus of media attention
But what sort of a leader would she be? Is she, as are some others on the right of the Tory party, an admirer of Ayn Rand? She was not, it would seem, one in December 2015, when, in discussing the Human Rights Act in the Daily Telegraph, she wrote:
“A fatal misassumption plagues our whole approach to civil liberties: the predominance of the individual over the communal. The importance of the individual is seen as the defining axiom upon which we should base our policy and gauge its success.”
And she went on to write:
“What we do for others should matter more than the selfish assertion of personal rights and the lonely individualism to which it gives rise.
A recognition is needed of our collective commitment and benevolence.”
Ayn Rand would have shuddered. In Atlas Shrugged she had John Galt excoriate
“A morality that holds need as a claim, holds emptiness— nonexistence— as its standard of value; it rewards an absence, a defect: weakness, inability, incompetence, suffering, disease, disaster, the lack, the fault, the flaw— the zero”
Disease and disaster! Even when these were things over which the people involved had absolutely no control, they were not enough to elicit Galt’s (or Rand’s) sympathy. The Braverman (or Fernandes, as she still was then) of 2015 would, apparently, have a very different view.
But what, then. are we to make of the Braverman who told us, only a week ago, that homeless people sleeping on the streets were indulging in ‘a lifestyle choice’ and that in any case many of them were ‘from abroad’, and that any charity, or charitable person, who gave them a tent should be prosecuted? That, certainly, is in tune with the Braverman who, in 2022, stated that it was her dream and obsession to see a flight full of asylum seekers take off headed for Rwanda.
What has changed? Is it Braverman? Or is it the Conservative party.
Rewind the tape, back to 2012. In April of that year David Cameron was telling the delegates to a world energy summit that “When I became prime minister I said I would aim to have the greenest government ever and this is exactly what we have”. It was, of course, a statement that was contested at the time, and it referred to a government that was in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but it was still one of the mantras that the Conservative party took with it into the 2015 election, at which Braverman was first elected. No surprises, then, that at that time she should have been a very moderate conservative, even a social crusader.
To the shock of most of the pundits, the Conservative Party won that election outright and, with no need to keep a coalition partner happy, began to change. Is it too cynical to conclude that Suella decided to change with it?
If so, it worked. Without any discernible talent but with a commitment to Brexit, she rose rapidly up through the ranks of the party. By 2020, with a totally undistinguished career as a lawyer behind her, she was Attorney-General, with her eyes fixed on even higher things and her gift, if it could be called that, for the inflammatory word and phrase, becoming more extreme as time went by. To the point that now it is the police force that she is attacking for being too far to ‘woke’.
So – how does Ayn Rand fit into this saga?
Where she was right, and is one reason for the attraction she has had for many of her readers, was in her analysis of the incompetence and venality of many of those who rise to political power, Where her analysis failed was in setting up, as typifying that rise, a man by the name of Wesley Mouch, who rose through the ranks because people thought he was safe. Mouch was a man who worked in the shadows, and according to Nadine Dorries there are some very shadowy people pulling the strings in today’s conservative party. These, however, are people with far more ability than Mouch was shown as possessing, and what Rand neglected was the need that such people have for a public face behind which to conceal their private influence. That is the great weakness of ‘Atlas Shrugged’; it is never made plausible that a whole nation of people (almost) would be persuaded to accept policies that were so clearly against their own interests. What the people in the shadows require is someone who will articulate those parts of their policies that will resonate most strongly with their base, and so divert attention from others that might not. They need a Trump – or a Braverman.
But perhaps we should not be too hard on Suella She was, after all, not given that name at her christening, She was christened Sue-Ellen, after the character Sue-Ellen Ewing in the long-running TV series Dallas, whom, it is said’ her mother much admired. And whom the actor who played the part described as “a neurotic, psychotic, alcoholic weirdo”. That thought must be a heavy burden for the future Mrs Braverman to carry through life.