In Depth

The role of home secretary: a poisoned chalice?

Priti Patel is latest Home Office boss in the firing line

Home Secretary Priti Patel is fighting for political survival after being accused of bullying staff at a total of three government departments.

The latest allegations to surface relate to her time as boss at the Department for International Development, between 2016 and 2017.

Earlier this week, it emerged that a former aide to Patel at the Department for Work and Pensions received a £25,000 payout from the government after attempting suicide following alleged “unprovoked aggression” and bullying by the Tory minister.

And Philip Rutnam, the Home Office’s most senior civil servant, resigned last week claiming that Patel waged a “vicious and orchestrated” campaign against him.

The Cabinet Office has pledged to investigate whether the home secretary has breached the ministerial code. Patel denies all the allegations against her.

The Home Office has earned a reputation as something of a graveyard for ministerial careers, with the notable exception of Theresa May. Here are some of the figures at the centre of past debacles at the department.

David Blunkett

Blunkett resigned as home secretary in 2004 after an email exchange emerged that showed he had intervened in the visa application of his former lover’s nanny, Leoncia Casalme.

An email from his office to immigration officials processing the application read: “No favours but slightly quicker.”

Blunkett denied allegations that he had abused his position to fast-track Casalme’s application to stay in Britain, but his resignation became inevitable after a second set of visa claims emerged.

The Home Office chief was reported to have had a another visa fast-tracked so that Casalme could visit her sister in Austria for Christmas in 2002, although the Austrian ambassador to Britain denied that the Labour minister had intervened in the case.

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Charles Clarke

Clarke was brought in as Blunkett’s replacement but was sacked as home secretary in 2006, in a major reshuffle following heavy losses for the Labour Party in local elections.

The then-home secretary had presided over a scandal involving more than 1,000 foreign prisoners, who were freed without being considered for deportation. Clarke admitted that 79 of the freed offenders had originally been imprisoned “for more serious offences, of which 13 were for murder, manslaughter, rape or child sex offences”.

Jacqui Smith

Smith was Tony Blair’s third home secretary to fall to the Home Office curse, resigning in 2009 following an embarrassing row over parliamentary expenses.

The minister was left red-faced after it emerged that she had made an expense claim to the Commons for two pornographic films, added to her taxpayer-paid TV bill.

Her husband, Richard Timney, was forced to make a public apology outside their family home for ordering the two pay-per-view adult films, at a cost of £5 each, while his wife was out.

It was the second scandal to hit Smith, who had been criticised for designating her sister’s home in London as her main residence, allowing her to claim £116,000 in expenses on the property she shared with Timney and their two sons in her constituency town of Redditch, in Worcestershire.

She went on to lose her seat in the 2010 general election. The following year, Smith told The Telegraph that her husband had “not surprisingly” avoided porn since the scandal. “He’s told me he hasn’t and he has no reason not to tell me the truth.”

The couple announced this January that they have split up.

Amber Rudd

Rudd resigned in 2018 over her role in the Windrush scandal, which saw the deportation of at least 83 people who had the right to remain in the UK.

As well as those who were wrongly deported, an unknown number were wrongly detained, lost their jobs or homes, or were denied benefits or medical care to which they were entitled.

Rudd denied that she was aware of deportation targets, but The Guardian later revealed that Rudd had sent a letter to then prime minister May in 2017 saying that she intended to increase deportations by 10%.

Prior to her resignation, Rudd insisted: “I have not approved or seen or cleared any targets for removals looking ahead, and looking ahead I will not be doing that.” 

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