By Mike Phipps
Few people may have heard of Suella Braverman until she committed the indelicacy of announcing she was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party before Boris Johnson had resigned his post and while she was still a member of his government. She was hilariously mocked for her ambition by Emily Thornberry, among others. But it’s hardly the first time that the Attorney-General has courted controversy.
The privately-educated daughter of immigrant parents, Braverman has described herself as a child of the British Empire, adding that, on the whole, “the British Empire was a force for good.” MP for Fareham since 2015, she became an ardent Brexiteeer and Chair of the right wing European Research Group, later to be replaced by Jacob Rees-Mogg.
A long-standing opponent of the Human Rights Act, in December 2015 Braverman wrote, “In essence, rights have come to fill the space once occupied by generosity.” She quoted Eric Posner’s theories on what the Brazilian state sees as its right to use torture by “the police in the name of crime prevention. They justify this by putting a general right to live free from crime and intimidation above their rights of those who are tortured.”
She concluded: “To correct the imbalance, perhaps we should adopt a Universal Declaration of Responsibilities and Duties, to be read in tandem with that on Human Rights?… What we do for others should matter more than the selfish assertion of personal rights.”
In March 2019, Braverman stated in a speech to the Euro-sceptic Bruges Group that “we are engaged in a battle against Cultural Marxism”. The late Dawn Foster was among journalists at the event who challenged Braverman’s use of the term, highlighting its anti-Semitic history – it was widely used in Nazi Germany – and its connection to the manifesto of the mass murderer Anders Breivik. Braverman defended her position, saying: “I’m very, very worried about this creep of cultural Marxism that has come from Jeremy Corbyn.”
The Board of Deputies, the most senior Jewish organization in Britain, issued a statement condemning Braverman’s use of the term, although they later declared her a “good friend of the Jewish community” and were “sorry to see that the whole matter has caused distress”.
Labour MP Wes Streeting said, “Members of Parliament should know better and she should apologize immediately or the whip should be removed.” Anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate added: “This is deeply disturbing and disappointing language to hear from a Conservative MP.”
In February 2020, Braverman was appointed Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland. Her appointment was greeted with widespread derision. Civil liberty groups expressed alarm about government plans to stifle judicial review.
Professor of European Law Steve Peers worked with Braverman on a report on protecting EU citizens’ rights in the UK after Brexit, which she later voted down in Parliament. He characterised her comments about how Breixit would restore the sovereignty of Parliament as “legal gibberish.”
Later that year, she clashed with top lawyers at the Bar Council’s Annual general Meeting. They accused her of sacrificing the UK’s reputation, sidelining legal advisers and bypassing the ministerial code of conduct.
Barristers asker her how Britain could retain “a shred of credibility” in demanding other countries follow international law, while revealing its own willingness to breach agreements. The criticisms came after the government unveiled plans to give ministers sweeping powers to “disapply” part of the Brexit deal that Boris Johnson himself championed and signed.
Braverman is a keen supporter of free schools and deporting migrants to Rwanda and has described Twitter as a “sewer of left-wing bile.” She defended Dominic Cummings’ apparent breach of lockdown rules, while claiming others were trying to politicise the issue. She has also called on teachers not to “pander” to trans students, claiming the “unquestioning approach” adopted by some teachers and schools is the reason different parts of the country have very different rates of children presenting as transgender. Braverman is also an opponent of gay marriage.
According to the Observer, she is also a member of a controversial religious cult “which continues to venerate its founder despite well-documented claims that he was a serial sexual predator.”
In her bid to be leader, Braverman declared, ““We need to get rid of all of this woke rubbish.” It’s a well-worn theme in right wing circles, often ineffective – as with the way leading Tories’ criticism of England football players taking the knee spectacularly backfired last year. But, aided by some of the Tory tabloids, it’s a line that can have cut-through. Part of the Johnson strategy to shore up his crumbling support was to wage a ‘culture war’ against the left over issues of sexuality, identity and ethnicity.
Braverman probably doesn’t stand much of a chance in winning the Tory leadership at this attempt. But her candidacy will undoubtedly move the debate rightwards and normalise extreme views which should be repugnant even to most Tories.
It’s worth remembering too that, after Tory MPs have whittled the wannabe leaders down to the final two, it will be the Conservative grassroots membership who will have the final say. This overwhelmingly white and elderly demographic is considerably more right wing than many of the party’s parliamentarians.
In 2016, following David Cameron’s resignation, the final two in the race were Theresa May and right wing Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom. So fearful were the party’s grandees of hard core members picking Leadsom that she was allegedly leaned on to stand down – fellow right winger Iain Duncan Smith claimed there was a “black ops” attempt to denigrate Leadsom – although this version of events does not feature in her own memoir.
Whether Braverman gets that far or not, somebody will – and they will borrowing from her playbook to win right wing Tory grassroots votes. Suella Braverman may be a figure of ridicule, but her ideas are in danger of becoming mainstream in her increasingly extreme party.
Mike Phipps’ book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018. His new book Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow: The Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2022) can be ordered here.
Image: Suella Braverman MP. Source: https://members-api.parliament.uk/api/Members/4475/Portrait?cropType=ThreeFour. Author: David Woolfall, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
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