Amber Rudd Exclusive: 'Loyalty Is Important'

Amber Rudd Exclusive: 'Loyalty Is Important'

    By Charlotte Williamson Posted 13 days ago

    Another week, another set of battles for Theresa May to reach some resolution in the Brexit process. Last Thursday she spent almost 40 minutes in Parliament defending her plan before any MP offered support.

    So, it’s perhaps not surprising, then, that one of the first people the Prime Minister appointed following a spate of resignations was Amber Rudd – a woman who has been described in the past as her ‘human shield’. Earlier this month, Rudd was appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, after resigning as Home Secretary following the Windrush scandal.

    Despite Rudd last week seemingly contradicting the PM’s warnings that rebels could cause the UK to crash out of the EU without a Brexit deal (Rudd said in a Radio 4 interview that she believed Parliament would stop a no-deal Brexit), Mrs May must take comfort in the reappearance of Rudd, with whom she sometimes shares a whisky at Number 10.

    So how has Rudd found being back? ‘I had seven months out of the Cabinet and that gave me the chance to spend a lot more time in my constituency in Hastings and Rye,’ she says. ‘I’m pleased to be back, though. The Department has a huge job to do – supporting 22 million people with pensions and benefits.’

    She recognises that the mood has changed. ‘The Cabinet is even more focused on Brexit. When I left, Cabinet meetings lasted 90 minutes – now they last far longer.’ And despite Rudd having voted to remain, she’s adamant that Theresa May is the right person to lead Britain through Brexit as the 29 March deadline looms. ‘She passionately believes in what she is doing and I think if you believe in what you’re doing, you find the energy to do it despite any dificulties you might face.’

    The drama that’s unfolded in the Conservative party over the past weeks has seen ministers resign and others call for a ‘no confidence’ vote in May’s leadership. Rudd, however, has stayed loyal. ‘Loyalty is important,’ she says. ‘We are a political party, we are a government, but making sure we work as a team is the only way to really be successful.’ So would she consider standing for Prime Minister herself ? ‘I get asked this a lot but I think it’s the wrong question. We’re all preoccupied with our own roles in Cabinet and it worries me when colleagues speculate about leadership issues. We’ve got a Prime Minister, she’s doing a great job, let’s support her.’

    Rudd’s resilience in dealing with Westminster was honed when her former husband, restaurant critic AA Gill, left her to bring up their children alone. ‘I did it largely on my own but, no regrets, they’ve turned into great young people,’ she reflects.

    Raising her children may be why she entered politics relatively late, in 2005, after working for investment bankers JP Morgan. Now 55, she still remembers her first week. ‘I was sitting next to a mature conservative MP who, in a bid to make a friend of the new feminist MP sitting next to him, asked, “Did you know George Eliot was a woman?” At least he was trying!’

    Today, she says Westminster feels less like a ‘“boys’ club” but there’s still work to be done’. She’d like to see 50/50 gender representation – rather than the current 32% of women MPs. ‘We must encourage more women to see Westminster as a place they want to work. It’s special when women get together and support each other.’

    Nonetheless, Rudd understands better than most that the pressure of being in the public eye might put some women off. So what’s the best advice she’s had to deal with that? ‘To be yourself. You think, “What do you mean? I’ve got to look confident and I don’t feel it.” But you’re much more likely to project the message you want if you’re true to yourself.’ If that sounds sensible, her role models are more eclectic, ‘Could we call Buffy The Vampire Slayer an early feminist?!’ she asks. ‘And Katniss Everdeen [protagonist from The Hunger Games]!’

    Rudd switches off from the pressures of the job only ‘when I’m concentrating on something else,’ so she tries to go to the cinema, theatre and the gym. ‘And, I also like a good box set. I just finished Killing Eve – it was fantastic.’ So does anything keep her up at night? ‘Nothing. I sleep like a baby! My friends find it extraordinary.’ Still, it’s probably useful given her new job…

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