When Suella Braverman’s career as home secretary was last on the ropes – for sending an official document from her personal email in a serious breach of the rules – she received little support from cabinet minsters. “She’s a joke,” one said at the time. “She shouldn’t be anywhere near high office.”
Yet within six days she was back in the job, after Rishi Sunak calculated that it was worth reinstating the leading rightwinger to the Home Office to win her support for the Tory leadership bid which brought him to No 10.
It has not been a smooth path. Within days of being back at the Home Office, she was fighting for her job for a second time after she was accused – and denied – ignoring legal advice on keeping asylum seekers at the overcrowded Manston immigration centre in Kent.
As she battled for her survival in the Commons, she angered critics, as well as some on her own side, with her incendiary claim that asylum seekers crossing the Channel in dinghies constituted an “invasion of our southern coast”.
She also bemoaned a “broken” system which meant that “illegal migration is out of control”, with no acknowledgment of who had been running the country over the previous 13 years.
The following months brought more hard rhetoric on immigration, as the government’s headline bill made its way through parliament, and a trip to Rwanda where she made an off-colour joke that she was so impressed by the decor of the homes being built for asylum seekers deported from the UK that she could use the interior designer.
Yet migrants aren’t the only ones caught up in Braverman’s culture war: environmental protesters, human rights activists and equal rights campaigners have all been in her sights too.
The passage of time, and seven months back in the job, has done little to ease frustration towards the home secretary among her Conservative colleagues.
Just last week, despairing Tory MPs accused her of undermining Sunak’s authority and making a bid for the future leadership of the party with a partisan speech at the NatCon conference. Tory MPs privately condemned her. “Rishi needs to make it clear to her that she is either a team player or a backbencher,” said one.
The latest row over whether she broke the ministerial code by requesting a private speeding awareness course is seen as a spectacular own goal – with several MPs saying she would deserve her fate if it costs her her job for a second time.
Even Downing Street insiders now may be starting to go cool, with one telling the Guardian there is “no appetite” in No 10 to defend the home secretary and Sunak himself stopping short of saying he had full confidence in her.
This failure to give Braverman the benefit of the doubt on the speeding course row is in stark contrast to Sunak’s apparent determination to stand by other beleaguered ministers, including his former deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, until the very end.
“It’s all about delivery,” says one Tory insider. “If she can get net migration down and start getting to grips with the small boats crisis, then she’ll prove her detractors wrong. But does anybody really think either of those are possible?”
In the meantime, the judgment of Sunak, who by now is surely regretting promising “integrity, professionalism and accountability” at every level of government when he took office, is once again under question.