‘Where would you like to sit?’ Her office was hardly short of options. ‘Shall we go soft?’ and pointed to the corner sofas before we became confused. As a staunch ‘Remainer’ in a cabinet heading for a hard Brexit, ‘soft’ almost seemed like a Freudian slip.
We sit, and quickly agree to ‘get to it.’ In the company of Amber Rudd, if you’re not ready to get on board, be sure you’ll be left behind. She let us know we had 15 minutes.
Ms Rudd had the sound politesse as anyone would hosting an interview in their own office, especially when that office sits at the apex of government. Her presence from start to finish was kinetic but with a sharp awareness of how much she could let on to two amateur broadcasters. Our mutual awareness of Ms Rudd’s stature meant our nerves were predetermined. As two young women studying politics, the awe we felt may as well have been a fourth member in the room.
So in such a position, where were we to start? With our seemingly single thing in common: the University of Edinburgh. I pitched to her that ‘some other famous alumni of Edinburgh University have included ex-Prime Ministers, such as Gordon Brown’ and whether she ‘planned to join that list?’ she chuckled knowingly and answered, ‘no’.
In fact, Rudd answered most of our questions with a graceful media savviness, but the real takeaway was listening to her talk about her responsibilities as Home Secretary. Rudd states her role as being a ‘protector’ and I asked her if she is ever saddened by meeting vulnerable women who are the victims of crime. Her tone of voice immediately darkened when she confessed ‘yes’ and that when meeting the families of the victims of the Borough Market attack last year, she said she struggled ‘to control [her] composure.’ When answering what gets her through these moments, she stated her solace as being:
‘the actual work that you do as home secretary, not the politics, not the gossip, not the chat, but the actual work, can help keep those individual families safe.’
Rudd’s remorse is tangible, and she expresses genuine hope that her new counter-terrorism legislation due to be released later this year will keep safe other families like the ones she met. Rudd therefore struck me as the ultimate get-shit-done character with an armoured heart on her sleeve.
Defending women is a self-proclaimed feature of Rudd’s tenure in office, and she has publically asserted that ‘only by having women in government do we get women’s lives properly considered by government’. In answering what it will take for more women to enter politics she answered in the same way that many others have; by changing the culture of hate and ‘sewer’ of social media. Rudd reasons that many women are put off by ‘the abuse you get for putting your head above the parapet’ as much of political work requires you to be ‘confrontational’. Perhaps Rudd sees herself as leading by example with her own resilience.
When asked which politician, dead or alive, she would take to a desert island, Rudd answered Barbara Castle. Castle was ‘really passionate about women’ and spent many years at the top of British politics. Similarly, regarding Rudd’s own swift rise to the top, perhaps the top is where she shall remain. Pun intended. Heading up the Home Office is known to break many political careers yet Rudd’s career only seems to solidify. In just eight years, Rudd has gone from entering Parliament as the MP for Hastings and Rye to Home Secretary. Meteoric is one word. She states with an excited urgency: ‘I love being Home Secretary – you’re in the room where it happens.’
As of this week, that ‘room’ has been on fire as the Windrush scandal unfolds. Leaked memos, public u-turns, and finger-pointing have kept us guessing: will Rudd resign? Yet in the face of searing Select Committee questioning, PMQs and press lunches, Rudd has stayed cool. When asked at the gallery lunch on 26 April about how the Windrush would affect her leadership chances, Rudd cleverly replied: ‘I’m just thinking of staying in the game.’ By neither denying nor admitting to having sights still on Number 10, Rudd again showed her ability to make the question work for her. Again, when asked how Rudd would behave differently towards Brexit if she was a backbencher, Rudd cut back: ‘You’re anticipating my demise a bit early.’
Rudd is therefore a force of wit. As a minister during the ITV EU Referendum debate, Rudd stole the headlines with her quality jabs at Boris Johnson. She joked that, while Johnson is ‘the life and soul of the party…he’s not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening.’ Her intuitive humour is arguably what really cemented herself in the public’s consciousness. If a drive home were to become fatal, I would feel confident in Rudd’s ability to take the wheel.
Amber ‘The Protector’ is not a common persona we see in the media, but I found Rudd far more multifaceted than a ‘safe pair of hands’. Her humour and honesty were dosed in equal measure and given where appropriate. Her energy, however, was consistently contagious. As next week brings further questioning on Windrush, my money is on Rudd not just staying in the game but running it.
If you’d like to hear the recorded interview with Amber Rudd, or if you’re interested in students talking politics, check out The BackBench, Edinburgh Political Union’s radio show, hosted by Sunday columnist Zoë Fillingham and Saffron Swire. Episodes of The BackBench can be found here.