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Theresa May, Strong Woman

May Theresa Home Office
By Paul Goodman

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Abu Qatada could have launched a last ditch legal appeal, rather than get on that plane from RAF Northholt.  Why didn't he?  Perhaps life in Belmarsh was proving unpleasant.  Perhaps he and his family were slowly ground down by all the negative publicity and its consequences.  Perhaps he simply thought he'd lose in court.  But whether so or not, he and his lawyers must certainly have been persuaded that he will now get a fair trial in Jordan.  And the factor that would have made the difference in this calculation would have been the new treaty between Britain and Jordan, drawn up after months of toil by James Brokenshire and Theresa May.

This is a huge moment for the Home Secretary.  She has already notched up Abu Hamza on her office wall.  Now she can add the name of Abu Qatada, one of Al Qaeda's most senior players.  The Government's critics will say that we shouldn't be in the ECHR at all and that, were we not, Qatada would have been forcibly deported many years ago.  They are undoubtedly right on the first point, and probably so, too, on the second, since our courts have twice upheld efforts to expel him.  But they are missing an important point.  The word on the street is that Britain's politicians are lost amidst a swamp of human rights laws - to the scorn of benefit-claiming terrorists.

Some people, probably most, will still hold to that view this morning.  But others will reflect that it is possible for Ministers to steer their way of the morass if they are patient and purposeful - and have a clear plan that they stick to.  Mrs May has shown all those qualities and, like the legendary Mounty, she has got her man.  She deserves our congratulations.  And after this success, her record deserves reappraisal.  Immigration is down, and not only net immigration: gross immigration is now at its lowest since 2001.  Crime is down, despite a scaling-back in the rise of the police budget.

Although some extremist preachers still escape the net, the Home Secretary has tightened it, excluding Zakir Naik against the advice and, in some cases, the activity of her officials.  Police Commissioners are in place.  Labour's plan for identity cards has been scrapped.  Control orders have been replaced.  The review of stop and search makes sense (though it's far from clear that we would all be better off without it).  We rightly laud Michael Gove for creating academies and Iain Duncan Smith for devising the universal credit.  But the benefits of those academies won't be felt for many years, and the credit is still in its infancy.  Doesn't Mrs May's record to date deserve similar praise - and, if so, why doesn't she get it?

Maybe the memory of the "Nasty Party" moment still lingers in the minds of too many activists.  Certainly, the Home Secretary has always been a cat that walks by herself, without the fan club that Iain Duncan Smith has won for his energy and Michael Gove for his brains (and both for their determination to challenge and change the status quo).  But that is changing: Mrs May is putting herself about much more with the 2010 Tory intake, and makes no secret of her willingness to apply for the leadership if there is ever a vacancy.  What applies to Boris applies to her: it's simply too early to say.  But Qatada's exit will do her reputation no harm.

Increasingly, the Home Secretary is quietly being transformed into one of the archetypes of political culture: the Strong Woman.  The last one to lead the Party didn't do so badly.


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