Theresa May has insisted it is “always easy” to say or do something to be liked – but much harder to take action “because it’s right”.
Defending her controversial immigration speech to the Conservative Party conference, she said people needed to see a politician recognising the issue as important.
And asked whether she was concerned with seeking approval, the home secretary told the Women In The World summit: “It’s always easy to say something in order to be liked.
“It’s harder to say or do something that may not be liked, but do it because it’s right.
“I try to do what I believe the right thing to do is.”
Mrs May was also asked about the reaction to her conference speech, widely seen as a bid for the party leadership, which the Institute of Directors described as “pandering to anti-immigration sentiment”.
She said she thought it was “important to reiterate the issues around high levels of immigration”.
She added: “I thought it was important to say what government should be doing in these areas because it does matter to people.
“There are some things within the system I think it’s important to deal with.
“If you talk to members of the public this is a real concern for people. They need to see a politician recognises it as important.”
Most people would be surprised to hear, she added, that more than 500 people from inside the EU had claimed asylum in the UK, of which all bar a handful of cases had been rejected.
Echoing Prime Minister David Cameron’s words, on the Syrian refugee crisis, she emphasised the importance of having both “head and heart”.
Asked in the wide-ranging interview about her efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of historic sexual abuse, she questioned the use of the word historic.
She added: “This is not something that goes away. We shouldn’t really call them historic cases because they are cases where people are living with this every day of their lives.”