The Sunday Times p1 today reveals (to people who don’t read the Daily Telegraph or CoffeeHouse) that Theresa May is planning a Modern Slavery Bill. The Home Secretary writes about its details in the newspaper and in so doing exhibits a very peculiar trait. She appears to belong to a tiny subcategory of politicians: those who want to be known by what they do rather than what they say. The Home Office is normally a politician’s graveyard. But she is enacting reform after reform and her quiet momentum has seen her overtake Boris to become the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader (when the time comes). Abu Qatada has been put in the catapault many times before: only May managed to release the elastic. Normally, a politician beats his chest (and it normally is a he) in the rare occasion that he finds something important to do. May just does it, and lets her actions speak for themselves.
Those who have been working with the Home Secretary on the Modern Slavery Bill have been struck by two things. First, she was initially suspicious of the idea and wanted to know if legislation would actually achieve anything – she didn’t like the idea of a grandiose sounding piece of law that did nothing more than state government intention. This is the opposite of the approach of the Labour years, where ministers actively requested ‘eye-catching initiatives’ for gimmicky spin purposes.
Next, I gather that during the talks about this, May has decided she would not actually wait for her Modern Slavery Bill (which probably won’t be enacted until next year). She wants to know what government can do about the problem in the mean time. How can her new crime agency help? What can she do to give police clearer instructions about the importance of apprehending slavemasters? The reforms that do not require legislation, she says, should be done immediately.
I have not been a cheerleader for Theresa May; in fact, I’ve been rather dismissive about her in the past. But you can’t argue with what she is achieving, and in a department bearing more than its fair share of cuts. She appears to be more cut out for government than opposition. And God knows, we have more than enough ministers for whom the opposite is true.
PS The Sunday Times expose on slavery in nail bars last week was a major part of the battle against this new evil: it’s great to hear the newspaper say that it is campaigning on this theme. The biggest problem in tackling slavery today is that so few people believe that it actually exists. This report from my colleagues at the Centre for Social Justice (pdf) gives all the proof you’ll need.