Home Secretary Suella Braverman is the latest British politician to be described as “divisive” after she spoke of a migrant “invasion” of Britain.
Most Tory MPs “loved it”, said Sky News. “She spoke for the nation in saying we need to control this problem,” said Sir John Redwood, a fervent Brexiteer.
There was support in the media, too, with Sam Ashworth-Hayes arguing in The Spectator that Braverman’s critics “ignore an uncomfortable truth” that her statement is “essentially correct”. The Sun’s political editor Harry Cole agreed, telling LBC: “Yes it was divisive, yes it was punchy, yes it was controversial but she was saying what lots of people are thinking.”
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
However, said Braverman’s opposite number for Labour, Yvette Cooper, “no home secretary who was serious about public safety or national security would use highly inflammatory language on the day after a dangerous petrol bomb attack on a Dover initial processing centre”.
Even some Tory ministers have distanced themselves from Braverman. Graham Stuart, a Foreign Office minister until September, said that “unfortunate language” had been used, and Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick told BBC Radio 4's Today: “It’s not a phrase I’ve used.”
Braverman is something of a new breed of UK politicians that has emerged in the wake of Brexit. The vote to leave or remain in the EU “scrambled partisan affiliations and created new, polarised political identities around one dominant issue”, Matthias Matthijs, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, told Vox.
The Week takes a look at some of the other politicians who have divided public opinion since June 2016.
Named “Briton of the Year” by The Times in 2014, Farage is credited by many as the man behind Brexit. A “man of the people”, said Sky News in a 2015 profile, who understood public opinion, Farage is also seen as the man responsible for the uncertain state of the country following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
He “has been (and remains) one of the most divisive figures in British politics of the post-war period”, wrote Dr Andrew Roe-Crines for UK in a Changing Europe. Farage is a “hero to many, and a villain to many others”, and “very few would claim to have a neutral opinion” of him.
To his admirers, the former Labour leader was a beacon of hope for progressive, left-wing and compassionate policies. To his detractors, he was an extremist, whose plans made Labour unelectable and who failed to sufficiently challenge anti-Semitism in his party.
“If there’s one thing everyone agrees on when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn,” said The Guardian, “it is that he is a divisive figure.” His legacy within the party is seen in the reign of his successor, which has taken the party in a very different direction.
Keir Starmer took over as leader of the Labour Party in the wake of the 2019 general election defeat and has since courted controversy by suspending his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, expelling members on the left of the party and facing accusations of pulling his punches in his dealings with the Tory government.
However, his supporters have praised his approach as a sensible breath of fresh air. “Finally, there’s a grown-up in charge,” wrote Ian Dunt, for Politics.co.uk. With Labour taking opinion poll leads as high as 36 points, his supporters feel Starmer’s measured manner has been vindicated.
The Scottish nationalist was described by a political opponent as “the most divisive politician since Margaret Thatcher”, noted The Scotsman. Her tireless quest for a second independence referendum is as loathed by her opponents as it is cheered by her supporters.
Last month, Sturgeon was accused of “divisive rhetoric”, said the BBC, when, asked if she would prefer a Labour or Tory government, she said: “I detest the Tories and everything they stand for so it’s not difficult to answer that question.”
Fans of the former prime minister were charmed by his bumbling style and say his reign in Downing Street was marked by him “getting Brexit done”, overseeing the speedy roll-out of Covid vaccines and backing Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
However, Johnson’s critics argue his time as PM was symbolised by rule-breaking parties and by the UK having one of the highest Covid death rates in Europe. There were also “accusations of sleaze and cronyism”, said the BBC.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.