Tough talking Braverman and the stirring up of far fight activists

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The Union Jack (image: courtesy of The Digital Artist)

There is one thing the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman cannot be accused of and that is being afraid to speak her mind. It is the right of every government minister to defend the interests of their country and its citizens. However, as home secretary, Suella Braverman has not only been very strong in her tough stance of safeguarding the interests of the UK, it can be claimed she has probably gone too far. Even though she has only been in office for the better part of a year, her words have resulted in controversy and divisions in her own political party and the country. Her words have created divisions and have, inadvertently, served to fuel far right activism and racial tensions in the country.

The home secretary is responsible for law enforcement, immigration and national security. Suella Braverman is a hard right member of the Conservative Party. Interestingly, she has now been fired twice from this position, primarily for speaking out and not toeing the party line or messaging. Some of Braverman’s messages and intentions can be regarded as important. The problem, however, is not the message or the broad policy being articulated, but the use of language. For example, tackling the decades-old problem of illegal migrants entering the country is important. One solution she actively supported was the Rwanda Policy. On 4 October 2022, she said she would love to have a front page of the Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda, as that was her dream and obsession. However, she also described asylum seekers as being engaged in an ‘invasion’ of the south coast of the country.

As part of her tough stance on law and order she has often stated her opposition to mass demonstrations. On 18 October 2022, for example, she referred to demonstrators such as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil as ‘tofu-eating wokerati’. Speaking with reference to the Israel-Gaza War on 30 October 2023, she referred to the chants of pro-Palestinian demonstrators as amounting to antisemitic attacks. There was, she claimed, only one way to describe these marches and that was as hate marches. Although she described the protests as violent hate marches, they were in fact, mostly peaceful.  Braverman also made inaccurate claims in a statement quoted in the Daily Mail that described gangs of men who prey on young women as “almost all British-Pakistani”. A 2020 Home Office Report, however, later concluded that group-based child sexual exploitation offenders are most commonly White men, and the press regulator stated that Braverman’s statements were misleading. The Daily Mail later withdrew the article.

Despite the controversy over Braverman’s tough stance and her choice of words, in recent times several people have come out in support of her. A few members of the Conservative Party agreed with her statements about the pro-Palestinian marches and her support for the Rwanda Policy. However, her stance on immigration and strong opposition to the pro-Palestinian marches have found support from far right groups. On Remembrance Day,  11 November, around 300,000 people turned out for a large pro-Palestinian rally in London and the police arrested at least 126 people during the demonstration and counter-protests, with 82 being counter-protesters. Some of these were football supporters and members of the far right group, the English Defence League, a few of whom were reported to have said they were there because of Braverman’s words about the police being too soft on some protests. According to them, Braverman was the only one speaking what many people were thinking, but too afraid to articulate publicly. The key point, though, as we saw in the USA with the storming of the White House, responsible government leaders must be careful with their words, as they can inflame passions and lead to public disorder. It will be interesting to see whether Braverman will continue to project this controversial persona if, as many expect, she decides to run for a future party leadership position.    

Dr. Tony Talburt is a Senior Lecturer at Birmingham City University in the UK.

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