Sketch: Amber Rudd may or may not want to be Tory leader
The good news is that the EU granted the UK extra time to find a solution to Brexit. The bad news is that the cabinet is almost certainly going to use the majority of that time to launch self-serving leadership contests. Not that they’re admitting it, of course, but then these aren’t subtle people.
Jeremy Hunt probably started the earliest, telling the press about why the contest to become leader should wait around a month after colleagues had described his own campaign as “very slick”, while Sajid Javid came shortly after, using an appearance in a disused pickle factory to make a speech that should have been on crime, but really just served to remind you how much Sajid Javid looks like a disused pickle.
But the most interesting approach by far came from Amber Rudd. Now, Rudd is obviously best known for misleading parliament over the number of deportations during the Windrush scandal, leading to her being unceremoniously booted from office in the midst of a case which raised real questions over her competence. As such, arguably, she has a better record in office than most of her rivals.
Sadly, though, the DWP is a tricky place from which to launch a leadership bid, and appearing on Radio 5 Live, Rudd quickly found herself explaining the recent growth of in-work poverty. Well, it turned out she had met with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation just that week “in order to work out what of their recommendations we can particularly work with”.
They want to know which recommendations they can particularly work with. Obviously, the government is open to any suggestions from anti-poverty campaigners, but it is only particularly interested in some of them. But let’s get to the point here. Did Rudd want to be the next leader?
“I’m going to continue to support the Prime Minister,” she explained. And that was very nice. But the PM will be leaving, so did she want to be leader or not? “I can tell you I don’t have a plan for that.”
So she didn’t want to be PM?
“I don’t have a plan for it. I am choosing my words carefully here.”
You’re choosing your words carefully? That’s certainly a good thing to do on live national radio, but you’re not really meant to say it out loud, Amber. The whole point of these answers is that you’re meant to hint at your intentions, without actually telling everyone that’s what you’re up to. She might as well have announced, ‘I’m being very cunning at the moment’.
So was she working on a plan to become leader?
“I’m not particularly working on it.”
There it was again. That word, ‘particularly’. What did it mean? She’s mainly not working on becoming PM? She wasn’t planning on becoming PM, but might end up doing it accidentally?
“I’m speaking to you very genuinely here. I am working on supporting the Prime Minister.”
Sure, she’s working on supporting the Prime Minister. That’s something a few of her colleagues could probably work on too. She seemed to be saying she was not, not running, but she wouldn’t say that she was. Was that it?
“I don’t think I’ve quite said that,” Rudd clarified. She wasn’t not, not running, but wasn’t not saying she was.
“I think what I’ve said is that I’m not planning to run.”
Finally, some clarity. Then, apparently aware there was a degree of ambiguity surrounding her words, she did her best to put the whole thing to rest.
“I think what I’ve said is that I’m not planning to run,” she explained. “So I’ve kept the door slightly ajar, but I’ve not committed to run.”
There was now a door involved, which didn’t help at all. No one had mentioned a door up until now. She wasn’t not running, and she wasn’t running, but you still got the sense she would probably run. And it all seemed to depend on a door of some kind.
So if she wasn’t running, what about our final candidate, Boris Johnson, then? When did Rudd last see him? “Ah, when did I last see Boris?” she mused to herself, as if he were a set of misplaced reading glasses, rather than the worst foreign secretary in living memory. “Probably last week in parliament.”
Well, at least she was properly answering questions now. Had Rudd met with him separately?
“Well, that’s a very compromising question, really,” she said, even though that’s definitely another thing you’re not meant to admit. It’s really only compromising if you’re plotting something. “No, I haven’t particularly seen him separately,” she added.
She hasn’t particularly seen him separately. What could it mean? How can you particularly see someone?
It was all very confusing. But if she wasn’t running, and she wasn’t backing Johnson, who would it be? Sajid Javid? Dominic Raab? Jeremy Hunt?
“My goodness, it sounds like some sort of game show, doesn’t it?” she said, though of course it didn’t. It didn’t sound like Rudd had seen a game show before, particularly. But who would she back?
“I will sit with my one nation caucus group of Tory MPs, who care so much about compassionate Conservatism, and we will be interrogating them when the time comes.”
What if none are any good? Would she step in?
“That is entirely possible. I don’t rule it out.”