[Re-posting from August to celebrate Priti’s success in realising her immigration point system, to come into effect Jan 2021]
Priti Patel, Home Secretary
Priti Patel has reemerged from two years in the wilderness, following an ignominious sacking, to achieve her highest position to date, following Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Vampires Haircut Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event Wall-Spaffer Spunk-Burster Fuck-Business Fuck-The-Families Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Turds Johnson’s aggressive reshuffling of the government’s cabinet.* Now head of the national security and with effective oversight of our national and international security services (at a time when investigations into the possibility of illegal foreign funding of a Leave campaign group is underway), Patel will, on a day to day basis, be in charge of implementing the government’s immigration policies.
The decision is easy to understand from Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Vampires Haircut Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event Wall-Spaffer Spunk-Burster Fuck-Business Fuck-The-Families Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Turds Johnson’s perspective. From the far-Right of one of Western Europe’s most right-wing major parties, Patel is a safe bet for a Johnson government fully invested in targeting the Brexit Party’s constituency – that he has lifted her out of political exile only further assures her devotion.
Then there is the other unmistakable factor, she is a brown woman. As Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Vampires Haircut Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event Wall-Spaffer Spunk-Burster Fuck-Business Fuck-The-Families Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Turds Johnson aims to score a political point by having the most ‘diverse’ cabinet in history, Priti Patel is a double whammy. Such cynicism, combined with the Tories’ increasingly serious lack of ethnic minority support, cannot be ruled out of Patel’s initial rise. When newly elected party leader David Cameron “A-listed” her for the 2010 election (selected her for a safe seat to ensure her election – she had run unsuccessfully in 2005) it certainly wasn’t because of her 7th-rate university degrees. The tokenism did not stop there. The Tories didn’t miss the opportunity to have their ‘Indian Diaspora Champion’ photographed with Indian PM Narendra Modi during his state visit. For her part, Patel remained deafly silent during Theresa May’s immigration crackdown as Home Secretary, which saw Indian student visa requirements tightened to such an extent their numbers halved – to the detriment of our universities, economy and, in every sense of the word, Commonwealth.
Despite 3 years of repeated promises to protect the statuses of EU citizens living in the UK and Brits in Europe and only days into his premiership, Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Vampires Haircut Inconclusive-Cocaine-Event Wall-Spaffer Spunk-Burster Fuck-Business Fuck-The-Families Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Turds Johnson has already reaffirmed there are no plans for safeguards, announcing the current Settled Status laws applied to all international migrants is “working well”. With the current political floor already being smashed through, there’s little telling how strict immigration policies will become; having a brown woman overseeing them is a handy aesthetic when presenting to a population who, unfortunately, too often don’t differentiate between “brown people” and may be shocked to hear that, within this crude, constructed category, there is a plethora of different ethnicities and Patel’s Indian heritage is certainly no safeguard.* Given Patel’s own track record towards the Islamic world, it would take a racist to believe she couldn’t be prejudiced merely because she is brown. As racism is inseparable from the material inequalities it both justifies and reproduces, we can already see the creation of an immigration policy that all but bans those from poorer, black nations.*; *
So, who is this ethnic minority woman in whom the extremist Right has found such a gallant young champion? How does a woman whose parents were offered sanctuary after fleeing Idi Amin’s tyranny vote against Alf Dubs’ amendment to allow Syrian refugee children the ability to come to the UK and then claim the UK is ‘doing more than our fair share’?* How does the contradiction come to be? In this profile, I will attempt to lay out Priti Patel’s career and, through this, describe what I see as her key drives, her subcutaneous instincts, her ur- essences.
One obvious accusation and possible explanation for these apparent contradictions is that Patel, like many in her profession, is a cynic. Perhaps it is unfair to single her out for this. By nature of seeing oneself as fit for the role of high office, the political class already has a selective bias towards egotism, if not fully fledged Napoleaon Complexes*, somewhat at odds with the notions of democracy and service. Then there is the steadfast truth that power, all power, corrupts (the causal link suggested by Lord Acton’s adage – ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ – has been found tragically salient in study* after study* after study*). However, while all are disposed to corruption, others leap at the opportunity, be it because they hold their morality cheap or because they lacked any to begin with.
In 2017, Patel was very publicly forced to resign from her cabinet post as Secretary of State for International Development for having held 12 secret meetings with high ranking Israeli officials (including Netanyahu). While ostensibly there on a ‘family holiday’, she did so behind the backs of the Foreign Office and, indeed, everyone else. Many, rightly, put this down to personal politics and a prejudice towards closer ties with Israel; most, however, did not note the cynical machinations at work against a Conservative leadership reeling from a terrible general election. The trip had been arranged by Baron Stuart Polak, honorary President of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group, and certainly won her the support of many a pro-Israel conservative donor.* Later, Christians United for Israel, beseeching us to ‘ignore the lies [for] Here is the truth!’, would tell us, ‘Patel helped stop British taxpayer money going to Palestinian terrorism’ and ‘anti-Semite Israel haters [were] smearing her name’.
Her departure was not lamented by the mandarins in her department, where her unpopularity was an open secret. This hadn’t been helped by her very cynical attack on civil servant pay during “silly season” (when government breaks up for summer and the commentariat offer a perverse amount of publicity to anyone willing to make a story). Patel’s objection had been that the country’s leading civil servants (usually after decades of service) were paid £180k plus bonuses (a number derived at by the Senior Salaries Review Body, which regularly proves comparable private sector positions pay multiples more) whilst she took home a mere £135k.*
The ‘willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain’ must surely come naturally to Patel by this point. Before entering politics, she worked for PR and lobbying firm Shadwick, through whom she worked for British-American Tobacco. BAT would later complain that many at Shadwick seemed reluctant to help counter the negative publicity around a BAT factory in Burma, jointly owned by the Burmese military junta. They did note, however, that ‘Priti [and one other employer] seem quite relaxed working with us’.*
The final act of voter-disdaining charlatanry I will touch upon here is the most recent and, undoubtedly, the most worrying. You can’t talk about Priti Patel without discussing Brexit. There was and is no shortage of intentional misinformation spewing from the national tragedy that is Brexit and Patel was a diligent servant of the Leavers’ cause – using her brownness to make claims others may not have – such as suggesting staying in the EU would open the UK up to 80 million Turks (the country’s entire population) even though Turkey is not a member of the European Union. ‘Uncontrolled migration’, she went on, was the reason for a shortage of school places (rather than the £2billion a year underfunding schools have been grappling with since 2015 – not helped by her own voting record*).
However, of greater concern, particularly given her new found position safeguarding Britain’s democracy, is her apparent disinterest in said democracy. Campaign funding limits and regulations are a key component to any functioning democracy. One need only look across the Atlantic to see the life-on-earth-threatening dangers of a political system where one’s ability elicit funding from as many powerful vested interests as possible becomes a prerequisite to political access and success (there is, today, not a single elected Republican official, in any branch of government, who supports any government action or regulation on the climate emergency). Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal (or Emerdata ltd – yes, they’re still around, same HQ and everything), we know that Vote Leave circumvented campaign finance laws in their targeting of voters with campaign ads specifically choreographed to appeal to their psychological profiles (profiles constructed with ill-gotten personal information).* There are also ongoing investigations into potential Russian government collusion and financial support in the referendum.* Patel’s response to all this was, last year, to request an investigation into Britain Stronger in Europe’s spending. The Remain group’s spending was, upon inspection, found to have been fully reported and in accordance with the rules. Patel’s request was rejected on the basis of no ‘reasonable grounds’. That she attempted to muddy the water around the investigation and blur the debate around subversive attacks on Britain’s democracy should, however, not be forgotten.*
To read Priti Patel’s career purely through the prism of opportunism would be, however, to greatly underestimate her. Unlike Pro-Immigration-Mayor Anti-Immigration-Premier Johnson, who wrote both a remain and leave speech before deciding leave was more politically self-serving at the 11th hour, Priti Patel has very different instincts.
Opportunistic as Patel’s visit to Israel may have been, it was not out of keeping with her time at DFID. Having criticised British aid to Palestinian territories via the UN and Palestinian Authority, one of Patel’s two major acts as Secretary was, in October 2016, to freeze one third of government aid to Palestine and to review whether the money funded terrorists – a claim that dumbfounded experts and was based on little more than her skewed, stupid view of the world in which “Muslim” equals “terrorist”. Of course, as is so often the case with those decrying the threat of Islamic terrorism, it is not the terrorism which Patel opposes; it is very much dependent upon who is doing the terrorising and towards whom. The purpose of Patel’s meetings was to discuss the rechannelling of Palestinian aid to Israel (a country with a GDP per capita roughly equivalent to Italy and South Korea). Specifically, the money would be channelled to Israeli Defence Force hospitals operating in the “disputed territory” (euphemism for “illegally annexed territory”) of the Golan Heights where the IDF helps treat Syrian jihadists before sending them back to the conflict to further destabilise the country and discredit Assad’s opposition (of which, lest we forget, jihadists were an insignificant fringe faction at the beginning of the war). As former chief of Mossad Efrain Halery put it, “I don’t say there were no tactical [considerations]” in the Israeli hospitals. Even her Conservative colleague Alistair Burt would state firmly, when responding to what she had suggested upon her return, ‘we do not do that’.
While being of Indian decent is no safeguard against the Islamophobia so rife in the Tory party, one might logically expect a little more empathy and criticism towards colonial tropes which trace their origins back to Europeans’ first encounters with “the other”. Unfortunately, to expect this from the new Home Secretary, is to grievously mistake her core instincts. Priti Patel, whose twitter account features Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Raegan as its cover photo, is a Conservative to the bone. There is not an issue where she does not side with the reactionaries.
To understand this mentality, a quote from Rosabeth Kanter’s classic Article, ‘Some Effects on Proportions in Group Life’, may be instructive, ‘If tokens collude, they make themselves psychological hostages of the majority group. For token women, the price of being “one of the boys” is a willingness to turn occasionally against “the girls”.’* The token woman, in other words, is required to, first, accept the constructed binaries of “us men” and “them women” and then to aggressively prove her exception to the rule and sell out her own kind. This is the cost of admission to the Master’s house and Priti Patel, time and time again, pays it gladly. It is of little surprise she, a life long admirer of Thatcher, joined the Party as a teenager. She did not arrive at the decision through any academic exercise; she is not wooed by the economic arguments of the Right – indeed, as a leading “fuck business” Brexiteer, she is a leader in a Tory government pitting itself against their traditional, business base. Her Tory membership is more felt than thought for, in the divide between those who worship power and those critical of it, she is forever hankering after its approval. She is of the ‘mob’ Adam Smith spoke of when he said, ‘The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers, and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshippers, of wealth and greatness.’
So, what does it mean to be a Conservative “to the bone”? Well, first we must acknowledge that power operates horizontally – as an exercise, not a possession. Though cynicism and conscious charlatanry are part of the political “game”, we must always keep in mind that our discourses (ways of seeing and knowing the world) are saturated a power that seeps out in a capillary function. These discourses, distilled into a single, unchallenged coherence we take to be objective truth, work as much upon the strong as the weak. To elucidate some of these internalised discourses, there is perhaps no better person than Priti herself.
Quite literally, Conservatism means Traditionalism. It is for this reason its followers are so disproportionally drawn from those whom tradition and the status quo benefit the most, why the British Conservative Party is doubling down on its rural base and why it today relies more on funding from the dead (through donations bequeathed in wills) than the living.* Modernism, and much of its critical thinking, is rejected in favour of a blind belief in a true revelation – that there are fundamental, moral truths revealed in the old and threatened by the new. Suiting uncritical and more obnoxious minds, Patel has never faltered in her commitment to these tenets – notably voting against same-sex marriage at every opportunity (in this regard, she is amongst like minded friends in the new cabinet).
Inseparable from this irrationalism go several other codes. A belief in the purity of action (masculine action) for action’s sake. As David Cameron and George Osborne’s deflationary austerity pushed Britain into recession in 2011, under the orthodoxy-repeated-as-farce notion that the state only and always hinders growth (contrary to all evidence). Even Thatcherite risk takers like the John Hoskyns policy unit shook their heads at the slapdash, economy-is-like-a-household fetishism (unfortunately for all of us, they found themselves confronted by a government which had had ‘enough of experts’). During her time as Minister for the State of Employment, Patel remained deaf in her Brexiteer fervour to warnings by the Confederation of British Industry (a conservative stalwart) that Brexit could cost the economy £100 billion and a million jobs.
Prior to this, Priti Patel was the protégé of Iain Duncan Smith, whose own belligerence as Work and Pensions Secretary drew constant criticism from the UK Statistics Authority for unsubstantiated claims about his policies’ successes – which have seen terminally ill patients taking ambulance trips to court to challenge Atos rulings that they were “fit for work” (IDS denied the existence of investigations into deaths related to sanctions even after civil servant revelations and FOI requests had brought most of the tragic details to light – instead choosing to attack disability campaigners as ‘disgraceful’).* ‘I have a belief I am right,’ IDS told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in 2013. ‘We have not published evidence,’ he admitted. But precisely because of this absence, he suggested, his claims could not be dismissed, ‘You cannot disprove what I said’ (put differently, ‘War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.’). ‘Conservatism never fails’, as US commentator Rick Perlstein said, ‘It is only failed’.
Umberto Eco wrote, ‘In modern culture the science community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge’.* This clearly flies in the face of conservative traditionalism. Disagreement therefore, and the difference it represents, becomes treasonous and there has been no shortage of cries of treason in recent years. Cameron infamously tweeted that Her Majesty’s Opposition were ‘a threat to our national security, our economy’s security and our family’s security’ and multiple Conservative MPs, including new Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (fired as Defence Secretary, more than a little ironically, for leaking secret national security information), peddled the slander that Jeremy Corbyn was a ‘traitor’ formally in the employ of the Soviet Union. Priti Patel, undeterred by recent footage of soldiers using a picture of Corbyn for target practice, decided to tweet her horror at Parliament’s wrestling the power to vote on any Brexit proposal away from Theresa May’s minority government’s cabinet in the following way, ‘A man who sides with terrorists and socialist dictators, would surrender our nuclear deterrent, has let anti-Semitism run rife in his Party and would bankrupt Britain has now been given the keys to Brexit’.*
Of course, “treason”, “intruders”, “our national security” require, like all political movements, a body politic; an us defined in opposition to a them. Conservatism generally, the Tory Right of Priti Patel and, since emboldened by 2015’s electoral success, the Tory party as a whole, views the People through a selective populism – what Eco referred to as a ‘qualitative populism’. Rather than a quantitative amalgam of individuals – of which “socialists”, the derogatorily named “corbynistas”, and British Muslims would be a part – the People are, rather, ‘a monolithic entity expressing a “Common Will” and, since a Common Will is a theatrical fiction, this requires interpreters.
Back in 2015, David Cameron (who, in his 2010, Soft-Conservative incarnation, had stated his religion ‘comes and goes’) notably broke with the established norm of not “doing God” in British politics and declared Britain a ‘Christian country’, sparking a public debate on Britishness, which would not serve him in the Brexit referendum.* To the conservative, Nationalism (often ethnically defined) is an essential, unifying privilege reflecting the basic, human, kneejerk opposition to and othering of difference. The logical conclusion of this is a belief in the superiority of one’s nation. Priti Patel has never waned in her commitment to the most jingoistic manifestation of Great Britain. Portraying both an aggressive international stance and characteristic stupidity, in leaked government documents Patel suggested, since Ireland is a major importer of food from the UK, using the threat of food shortages to bully Ireland into dropping the backstop. The threat of famine to a country whose British enforced potato famine in the mid-19th century is a fundamental part of its national identity was jaw droppingly ignorant; that she failed to note Britain is a major importer of food from the EU (of which Ireland will remain a member) was almost hilariously so.*
It would be unjust to accuse someone of imperial attitudes off the back of one, mindbogglingly stupid statement, so here’s more. When Theresa Hostile-Environment May appointed Patel International Development Secretary, Patel acted much as one might expect from someone who had previously suggested renaming the Department the “Department of International Trade and Development”. Under Patel’s leadership, such a sharp turn was taken towards turning British aid into an arm of foreign policy in the interest of British business, The City of London and the military, that many former aid advocates started wondering whether they should start a campaign to reduce aid spending.*
Patel passed a law in parliament which enabled a quadrupling of aid money which our government could channel into DfID’s private equity arm, the Commonwealth Development Corporation, from £1.5 billion to £6 billion (and specified that the limit could be raised again to £12 billion without the need for further primary regulation). The CDC Group, a highly controversial body, uses private equity funds to throw money at deeply questionable projects like luxury hotels, shopping malls, private schools and hospitals. While this may bring a good return on investment for the Group, it certainly isn’t meeting basic, sustainable development goals such as providing access to basic public services like education and healthcare. In essence Patel’s Act was the privatisation of huge amounts of the UK’s overseas aid budget, at a time when inequality and decades of under-investment in the Developing World is causing migration crises and exponential population explosions (it is a long proven fact that schooling and secure health facilities are the key to the Demographic Transition).
Aid must legally be spent on reducing global poverty. However, Patel repeatedly suggested spending aid in ‘the national interest’, in particular to help ‘open the door’ to post-Brexit trade deals and to win friends at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This was an attempt to return us to the bad old days when aid was used primarily to help Britain’s foreign policy interest around the world, often doing nothing to fight poverty in the countries in which it was used. As Lib Dem development spokesperson Baroness Sheehan said, ‘The primary purpose of development aid should be lifting the poorest people in the world out of poverty, not serving the government’s post-Brexit trade strategy.’
Naturally, this elitism, lack of empathy and contempt for the weak does not begin at the borders, bringing us to the final, core conservative instinct. To my mind, the greatest distinction between conservatives (read, those supporting the old order) and progressives (read, those seeking to change it) is between those who believe we are wholly responsible for our successes and failures versus those who believe we are social constructs. To the former, all forms of privilege/disadvantage (along with all evidence of social immobility*; *) are insignificant to the overriding “meritocracy” that determines our socio-economic position (a meritocracy which, nonetheless, shouldn’t be extended to foreigners). Ironically, but understandably, this appeals greatly to the more privileged (whose self-interest it serves the most) but often finds its most zealous advocates in successful climbers who can more easily see themselves as “meritocrats”. Opposition to progressive taxation, for example, is not a wholly cynical act but a genuinely felt belief in its injustice.* As JK Galbraith put it, ‘People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage. Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason. But the privileged also feel that their privileges, however egregious they may seem to others, are a solemn, basic, God-given right. The sensitivity of the poor to injustice is a trivial thing compared with that of the rich.’ The result is as Stewart Lee said, ‘the poor, who deserved to be poor, should not be helped by the rich, who deserved to be rich… the money’s mine.’
In the Conservative definition of The People there can be no partisans without plebeians. In 2012, the upcoming stars of the Tory Right (including Patel) published Britannica Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity. In it, British workers, labouring under decades of chronic under-investment and the Great Recession, were berated as ‘among the worst idlers in the world’. Riddled with ‘factual errors’ and ‘slipshod research’, Jonathan Portes rightly pointed out that, with the book, ‘[the authors] have joined the political version of celebrity culture – the same culture that they argue, to some extent compellingly, makes Britons believe they can get on without doing any hard work’.* Patel stuck to this mantra as Minister of State for Employment, consistently voting for benefit and tax cuts (along with assisting IDS’s halts to Employment and Support Allowance payments mentioned above).
A closing anecdote
In Britain today, prisons, privatised through PFI schemes, have been found to be so inhumane, violent and degrading that court injunctions have needed to be imposed to stop guards going on strike. In May, a court in Amsterdam refused extradition requests because of the ‘inhumane and degrading’ state of British prisons.
Crime is an issue not lacking for centuries of analysis and study. What does that vast wealth of inter-disciplinary research tell us? Categorically, leniency and rehabilitation work. This may grate the more vengeful amongst us; it certainly does not serve those seeking easy targets to villainise when appealing to people they otherwise exclude from their imaginings and ideals of The (read, Their) People. Nonetheless, no thinking person can honestly adhere to the simple, narrative schema that tougher sentences deter crime when all evidence is to the contrary.
But what if a political party, devoted to irrationalism and with a sincerely held, Social Darwinist worldview which dehumanises and others the weak,* comes to power in a political system bereft of democratic safeguards*, in a socio-economic structure where the strong seem only ever to fail up, and in a culture debased by an almost monopolised media? What if even access to positions of influence is self-regulated by age old hierarchies claiming to be a meritocracy? What if you dump a bucket load of dumbfoundingly maledicted stupidity in for good measure?
Well, you get Priti Patel, Home Secretary.
Despite being publicly humiliated for her support of capital punishment back in 2011* (which I seriously recommend watching – a small treat to those who’ve made it this far), Patel has already expressed her intention as HS to make criminals ‘literally feel terror’ at the notion of breaking the law.* I wonder which lawbreakers she will be going after. Will it be the Education Secretary for leaking national security information; the Work and Pensions Secretary for lying to the Home Affairs Select Committee; the tax avoiding Chancellor of the Exchequer for selling collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) before entering politics or for not declaring his conflicts of interest in the housing sector when Housing Secretary; will it be the PM’s new special adviser for eliciting Robert Mercer to subvert British democracy; Minister Gove for claiming £66,000 in expenses by “flipping” his multiple properties or perhaps the Prime Minister for plotting to have a journalist assaulted. No, I expect not.
Sadly, Patel may stand out for the zealotry and vacuousness of her dogmatism, but not for the dogma itself and this story proves rather an old one.
And so, I’ll end with some old words.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.