Suella Braverman an ideological 'lightning rod' for the Conservative Party

The Home Secretary serves as a commentator on her responsibilities and seeks the mantle of the right as next Conservative leader

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Rising from relative political obscurity to the front ranks of government, Suella Braverman can act as a “lightning rod” in splitting the Conservatives' ideological dividing lines while enhancing her profile.

She certainly knows how to make headlines. In recent weeks she has declared multiculturalism a failed project and warned of a "hurricane" of migration heading to the UK.

She has accused the homeless of making a "lifestyle choice" by sleeping in tents on London's streets.

Now she has taken on the might of the Metropolitan Police force by suggesting those at the top have “double standards” and “play favourites” after refusing to ban a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day. In her article in The Times, she managed to infuriate officers, insult the people of Northern Ireland, antagonise Muslims and leave many Tory party colleagues wondering just how many more problems she could create for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims said she is "fanning the flames of hate and inspiring the far-right".

"How can British Muslim communities expect to feel safe in Britain," they asked.

One Tory MP friend described her to The National as “charming and exceptionally bright” while another suggested that although she was “gentle” in private, she became a “searing right-winger” in public.

Both accepted that she had high ambitions to lead the Conservative Party and become prime minister with her championing of hardline anti-immigration politics cementing her position on the party’s right.

Those credentials have been reaffirmed by her calling pro-Palestinian demonstrations “hate marchers” and “mobs”.

“At the most basic level and political level, she is a useful lightning conductor for the prime minister given that she is the object of criticism now rather than [Rishi] Sunak himself,” said one backbench MP.

Insiders suggest that the motivation might be to “goad” the prime minister into sacking his Home Secretary, “making her a martyr of the right wing”. Speculation has started in Westminster on potential replacements with a suggestion that Michael Gove, a veteran cabinet minister, is being lined up to take her place.

Influential colleague

Should the flashpoint come either as a result of insubordination or through quitting in professed frustration, it will be the third time the relatively fresh face has left the government payroll.

She first quit ministerial office in 2018 over prime minister Theresa May’s soft Brexit plans.

Ms Braverman, 43, was sacked as home secretary towards the end of Liz Truss’s turbulent premiership for passing a confidential document to an MP.

That colleague was John Hayes, an influential right-winger who Conservative insiders say has significant sway over Ms Braverman.

“The thing to understand about Suella is that she is the protege of John Hayes and if I was very ambitious, I would have clung on to his coattails too because he knows everyone and is very influential,” said a moderate Conservative. “Suella basically doesn't do anything without John Hayes, he advises her and he's created her.”

Migrant background to MP

That partnership began after Ms Braverman entered parliament in 2015 fulfilling the ambitions of her parents who had come to Britain as migrants.

Her father Christie, a factory worker, came to Britain from Goa, India while her mother Uma, of Mauritian descent, was a nurse who had twice stood unsuccessfully as a Tory candidate before her daughter was elected.

Her story reflects that of others in the Conservative Party, including Mr Sunak - the child of proud British immigrants who seized the opportunities on offer.

Ms Braverman, who was born Sue-Ellen Fernandes, went to a fee-paying secondary school in north London on a part-scholarship, became head-girl and won a place at Cambridge University.

A qualified barrister, who specialised in housing and planning licences, she was determined to enter Parliament applying for 40 constituencies before securing the safe Tory seat of Fareham, Hampshire.

Hard Brexiteer

She did not attract significant attention in parliament until the Brexit vote was announced in 2016, an event that ultimately put her career on its steep trajectory.

A hard Brexiteer, Ms Braverman went on to lead the Eurosceptic ERG – the European Research Group – that proved highly influential as the Conservative Party shattered into pro and anti-camps over Brexit.

It appeared it was a crucial moment for her, moving Ms Braverman like several other colleagues further to the right.

“She is quite softly spoken and can be gentle in company, but something happens when a camera goes on and she turns into a searing right-winger, it is really unsettling,” said the former colleague.

Minister rising

She became a minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union in 2018 only to resign ten months later.

With Ms May replaced by Boris Johnson, Ms Braverman was propelled into high office. She entered the cabinet as Attorney General, Britain’s most senior law officer, in 2020, just five years after entering parliament.

Ms Braverman, a practising Buddhist, in 2018 married Rael Braverman, who is Jewish and a Mercedes Benz car firm manager.

She had her first child, a son, in 2019, and two years later became the first minister to officially take maternity leave under a new law change, when her daughter was born.

She returned to her Attorney General post in time to witness Mr Johnson’s descent following the Partygate scandal over Downing Street lockdown parties that culminated in his resignation.

Ms Braverman, who surprised some colleagues by adding her voice to the calls for Mr Johnson to quit, quickly put herself forward for the leadership race but was thwarted by others on the right, losing out to Liz Truss.

Eight days later

However, Ms Truss propelled her into the home secretary post which she held for just over a month before resigning over the secret document issue with Mr Hayes.

But she only remained out of government for eight days. Understanding that he needed to shore up the right wing, Mr Sunak asked her to enter his government again as home secretary.

Since then she has not been averse to courting controversial headlines. In an early speech, she labelled the illegal small boat migrant crossings as an “invasion” and has continued the hardline stance right up to this week with her attacks on those sleeping rough and then restating her position on the “hate marchers” for Palestine.

Tory Corbyn

“She is the equivalent of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, being deliberately inflammatory because what the new brand politician does is thrive on polarisation, dissent and creating an enemy,” said the former Conservative colleague.

“She has obviously made a calculation to goad Sunak into sacking her to become the great martyr for the un-listened to right wing.”

Colleagues on the right see things differently. “She's a very nice, charming lady, she really is, contrary to the image that people are trying to paint her,” said her MP friend. “Suella is exceptionally bright, a very good lawyer and she’s got a very firm view but clearly she is frustrated.

“On the Palestinian march, she is extremely concerned about the impact this is having upon internal societal cohesion.”

If, as the polls suggest, Mr Sunak loses the next election and resigns as Conservative leader, then Ms Braverman has positioned herself well as his replacement by becoming the champion of the right and perhaps one day fulfilling her ambition to become prime minister.

Updated: November 23, 2023, 10:49 AM