Lessons for James Cleverly

15 11 23

James Cleverly MP has been appointed as the new Home Secretary to take over from Suella Braverman. Senior Policy Officer, Misbah Malik, looks at what lessons James Cleverly can learn from Suella Braverman’s time as Home Secretary.

As James Cleverly enters office as the new Home Secretary, he inherits a country with tensions running high, escalating hate crimes, and a far right that feels increasingly empowered and represented by the political mainstream. 

Addressing the trail of destruction left by Suella Braverman must be a priority. Her tenureship as Home Secretary was defined by dog whistle politics, divisive rhetoric and unworkable policies that not only neglected but actively jeopardised her duty to protect communities. The Supreme Court verdict on the Rwanda scheme just goes to prove how policy was used as an act of performative cruelty. It whipped up anti-migrant hatred that harms our communities and fueled the far right.

From ‘hurricanes’ of asylum seekers, to the ‘lifestyle choice’ of homeless people, to ‘failed’ multiculturalism, Braverman continuously prioritised headline grabbing slogans made to be splashed across the front pages

Braverman’s hateful politics have been a driving force pushing the Conservative Party further to   the ‘radical right’ by bringing far-right tropes and conspiracy theories into their party. This has set the country in a dangerous direction, one where far-right extremists feel increasingly represented and empowered by the political mainstream. 

This has devastating consequences. The far right thrived under Braverman with revived street activism reflecting their confidence to operate above ground and within communities. 

Here are three important lessons James Cleverly can and must learn from Braverman.

  1. When the Government talks, the far right listens and responds. 

Government rhetoric around divisive issues has been empowering and feeding the far right. 

HOPE not hate research found that messages on anti-migrant far-right channels on Telegram increased by 149% as the Government ramped up their ‘Stop the Boats’ campaign from 2021 to the first few months of 2023. Activity also spiked around key Government announcements; in May 2022 messages about migration rose by 72% above average the day after Prime Minister Johnson declared that 50 asylum seekers had been told they will be sent to Rwanda in the next fortnight. 

We also saw this play out last weekend, when Braverman’s employing of fears around protecting the Cenotaph and Armistice Day incited violence. 2000 far-right activists took to the streets of London, with a return of football hooliganism reminiscent of the 2010s BNP hay days. 

This dynamic is underpinned by the overlap between language used by the Government and the far right. The Government has been increasingly adopting far-right tropes and conspiracies – “invasion” of asylum seekers, the “misguided dogma of multiculturalism”, trans women having “no place in women’s wards”, lefty “activist lawyers”. Simply put, this empowers the far right, as their rhetoric is legitimised by the political mainstream.

As Home Secretary, Cleverly must quickly learn that his words have consequences. He has the opportunity to redirect the Government’s narratives away from intolerance and sensationalism that allows the far right to thrive, and towards nuanced narratives that can underpin substantive and successful policy. 

  1. Unsuitable asylum accommodation policies create flashpoints for violence 

Unworkable and unsustainable policies put vulnerable communities in harm’s way.

HOPE not hate recorded an increase of 102% in anti-migrant far-right activity in 2022, an issue they have continued to mobilise around. The Home Office’s unsuitable accommodation arrangements have often been a flashpoint for demonstrations, with many taking place around hotels, RAF bases and barges intended to house people seeking asylum. These are often in small towns with already stretched support services. 

Cleverly himself has argued that “no MP would want large-scale asylum seeker accommodation in their area”. These arrangements work for no one – they are expensive for the taxpayer, overwhelming for communities, and dangerous for asylum seekers, as they become targets for hate. 

As Home Secretary, Cleverly must work with the refugee sector, local authorities and communities themselves to pursue long term, sustainable, community-based accommodation plans, where communities are given the necessary resources to be able to house and support asylum seekers. Irresponsible and inflammatory politics must be replaced with considered and evidence-based policy that seeks solutions, not scapegoats. 

  1. Resilient communities are essential to resist far-right actors 

The far right feeds off fear, anger, and division to infiltrate and radicalise communities. Replacing a Home Secretary who sowed the seeds of division, using hateful rhetoric to pit people against each other – asylum seekers against ‘hard working’ British citizens, trans women against cis women, pro-Palestine demonstrators against veterans, Cleverly needs to work hard to protect communities against hate. 

He must take extremism seriously, including the far-right terror threat, rather than weaponise it in a culture war. Twenty far-right sympathisers were convicted of terrorist offences in 2022, a record for one year, Andrew Leak killing himself after attempting to carry out a terrorist attack. Nine of the convicted were teenagers. There is a trend of increasing numbers of young men being drawn to extreme right-wing groups and terrorism.

We’ve seen community bonds destroyed over attitudes to asylum, with the far right latching onto these cracks and pulling them further apart, agitating community tensions to radicalise and recruit. This was encouraged by Government rhetoric around immigration, pushing an agenda that demonises asylum seekers and those that support them. 

At a time of deep division, the far right sees this as an opportunity. As Home Secretary, James Cleverly must rise to his responsibility to mitigate against the far-right threat. This has to involve working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to prioritise community cohesion, with a long term plan to mend the community fractures that have formed under his predecessor.


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