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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > October 2017 > Charm and steel

Charm and steel

A pro-European among Brexiteers and a liberal at the Home Office, Amber Rudd has shown herself to be a flexible operator. But could she make it to the top, asks Gaby Hinsliff

Prospect Portraits

When the question of leadership is in the air, it is never long before specific names are mentioned. As Britain’s political tribes assemble for their annual conferences, we profile three people—one Conservative, one Liberal Democrat and one from Labour—who are tipped for great things


The true test of character, Amber Rudd once said, is how one handles failure.

It’s not the successes that count, but the ability to “adapt and focus your life in the right direction” when fate turns against you. The advice she gave to girls at her alma mater Cheltenham Ladies’ College isn’t original, but coming as it did shortly after losing the European Union referendum, it was surely heartfelt. The Home Secretary’s own life—privileged upbringing, meteoric rise to cabinet, apparently seamless transition from favourite of David Cameron to trusted ally of Theresa May—looks remarkably untroubled by adversity. But appearances can be deceptive.

In the space of a year, the socially liberal Tory tradition to which she belongs and in which she had professionally flourished has fallen from grace. Tipped as a future leader of her party, she is nonetheless in some ways out of step with it; a Remainer in a pro-Brexit administration, a moderate and a pragmatist in a world where “centrist” is an insult. At times she has visibly struggled with these contradictions.

And that’s why her party conference speech this autumn matters. If she wants to rise higher, then Rudd can’t afford another car crash like last year, when, in the panicky aftermath of the referendum, she wound up floating (and then retracting) an idea that goes against all her instincts: forcing companies to reveal how many foreigners they hire, as if this were a source of shame.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s October issue: Andrew Adonis, Steve Richards, Gaby Hinsliff, Rachel Sylvester and Jennifer Williams look at the idea that leadership is the only thing that matters when it comes to elections. Adonis leads the cover package arguing exactly that point and outlining his ratings of the leaders who have competed every election in the UK and the United States since 1944—Richards offers a rebuttal. Hinsliff, Sylvester and Williams profile three potential leaders in waiting—Amber Rudd, Jo Swinson and Angela Rayner. Elsewhere in the issue we map out the potential road the UK might travel down to stay in the European Union and explore the relationship between UN Secretary General António Guterres and Donald Trump as the two prepare to meet at the UN. Also in this issue: Philip Collins on the similarities between Britain’s Brexiteers and the Gaullists of yesteryear, John Bercow explains how parliament could function better and our “View from” comes from Nairobi, where the recent election result has been annulled.