DO you remember Forever Amber, a risqué novel of my long-lost youth set in 17th century England, later made into a film in 1947? I only ask because a certain other Amber used to be our Home Secretary.
Amber Rudd will forever be known, by my generation at least, as “Forever Amber” because she was forever in the mire. Just one darned thing after another ended with her admitting she inadvertently misled the Home Affairs Select Committee, and then the House of Commons, over immigration targets.
To be fair, the Home Office has always been known as the politician’s graveyard, now made politically more dangerous by endless leaks. Is the Civil Service civil any more? You may well ask. And how many politicians are entitled to be called “the Right Honourable Member”?
The office may not have done our Prime Minister, Theresa May, our longest serving Home Secretary, much harm but the current Windrush scandal has come to haunt her. What, if anything, did she know about the injustice of the enforced repatriation to the West Indies of migrant families who moved here after the war to solve our shortage of labour, notably in the NHS?
Let us return to the eternal question: what can Sajid Javid, Rudd’s successor and notably a son of immigrants, do about the Home Office and its propensity for landing in trouble when not having to deal with political bolts from the blue?
Bolts do not come more out of the blue than the one that hit Willie Whitelaw in the 1980s, even though he survived it. He had the misfortune to have to answer to Parliament for a lapse in security that had ended with the intruder Michael Fagan invading the Queen’s privacy and chatting with her while she was in her bedroom at Buckingham Palace.
About 20 years later his Labour successor, John Reid, boldly declared his department “not fit for purpose”. To ease its burden, criminal justice, prisons, probation and legal affairs were transferred to a new Ministry of Justice without, so far as I can see, much improvement in attitudes or performance of our judicial system.
But the Home Office is still responsible for immigration, security and law and order and, under that remit, police, fire and rescue services, MI5, drugs, counter-terrorism, ID cards as well as a host of agencies, inspectorates and bodies responsible for advising on drugs misuse and research into such police sciences as DNA.
It is an explosive mix of sensitive issues, often touching on personal liberty. Given man’s fallibility, something is almost bound to go spectacularly wrong sometime.
Worse still – as with the Windrush affair – the Home Office has always faced a dichotomy: how does it combine toughness against illegality with sensitivity towards people, like the Windrush immigrants, who have made their lives here without documentation.
In fact, the Home Office is at the centre of a tug-of-war between the forces of law and order and so-called enlightened opinion that is soft on everything from drugs and crime to illegal immigrants. These people are so wet that they – but not sensible people – would deserve the anarchy that they preach.
To compound the Home Office’s misfortune, the internet has licensed the politically correct, the fanatics and the exhibitionists to make mountains out of molehills while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum uses it to promote his dangerously lax view of governance.
Who would be Home Secretary, even with the help of four junior Ministers?
The reality for Home Secretary Sajid Javid is that things can only get worse rather than better as society fractures.
This situation demands stern measures if we are to remain anything like a law-abiding nation. Javid needs to toughen up both policies and the people administering them. And to temper excess such as the Windrush affair he also needs a high-powered “anticipation unit” to seek out trouble and reconcile a hard line with compassion without undermining the paramount objective of enforcing the law.
I tried to provide this in a rudimentary way when I was in No 10 with look-ahead meetings with the PM aimed at identifying problems before they arose. I offer the idea free, gratis, to Javid – and to Mrs May who has now lost four Cabinet ministers in six months. In the meantime the now departed Ms Rudd will remain Forever Amber.