I don’t think there should be much more to say on the Priti Patel bullying scandal. She broke the ministerial code – again – and therefore should have been sacked. That’s it; I don’t see that there is anything more to talk about on the issue. Yet I am seemingly alone on this one; I’ve never seen anything like this incident as far as bad takes go.
Part of the response has broken along partisan lines. Figures from the right defending her; those from the left saying what she did should not just have been sacked but possibly had some fate far worse befall her. I saw her compared to both Adolf Hitler and Harold Shipman on Twitter over the weekend. You’d think the left would learn that crying wolf over fascism was a bad move that has a tendency to come back to haunt them, yet sadly there seems to be no sign of this realisation seeping through.
Yet the right have been even worse. Defending a Tory Home Secretary, fine, I get it, but being seemingly bereft of ways to explain her keeping her seat at the cabinet table despite having been found guilty of breaking the ministerial code – once again, not for the first time – they decided to reach for something equal parts absurd and dangerous. Some began to explain Priti Patel’s predicament through the lens of identity politics of a kind they would skewer the left for were it to be engaged in the defence of a Labour MP.
“If Patel was Labour, the left would be howling that this is all racist,” said several centre-right pundits. Yes, you’re right, they almost certainly would have. Problem is, plenty of Tory MPs seemed happy to bring race into the whole Patel situation themselves over the weekend. One Conservative MP on Twitter spoke of Patel as “female, BAME, the daughter of immigrants”, leaving me to wonder what any of those things have to do with Priti Patel either being Home Secretary in the first place or being found guilty of breaking the ministerial code. The right have spent a lot of time lecturing the left for bringing race into situations where it is uncalled for; doing the same thing when it might smell politically advantageous is hypocritical in the extreme.
It’s like Brexiteers defending Trump’s current behaviour by saying that because Remainers ignored the 2016 result with all the “it was the Russians wot did it” malarkey, that gives them carte blanche to fall in behind the idiotic conspiracy theories doing the rounds in the GOP at the moment. This is incredibly poor thinking. If you thought that the Remainers’ actions post-2016 were awful, it is hard to see how doing something that reminds you of this enough to explicitly make the connection between the two behaviours doesn’t mean you are doing something equally terrible.
If you can’t think of a real reason that Priti Patel should keep her job as Home Secretary, and are reaching in desperation for something that looks and smells like left-wing identity politics, maybe, just maybe there isn’t actually a good, non-partisan reason for her to stay in the job.
One reason why bringing race into all this is dangerous, beyond hypocrisy on the right being displayed, is that it helps to add to an already perilous situation regarding ethnicity and power. When Diane Abbott was under fire for getting her maths wrong a few years ago, many Labour figures tried to turn it into a question of race; saying that any critique of Abbott was racist by definition. She was shadow Home Secretary at the time, meaning holding her to account was important. By trying to make any criticism thrown at Abbott into a matter of race, the left were unconsciously creating the following, horrible syllogism:
A. Any BME person who ascends to the cabinet or shadow cabinet can never be criticised for any wrongdoing, regardless of what they have done, due to their ethnicity.
B. Members of the cabinet and shadow cabinet must be held accountable for their actions in our democracy.
C. Therefore, BME people cannot be in the cabinet or the shadow cabinet.
To be clear, I do not believe it was the intent of any Labour people to advance this idea when they were calling anyone who questioned Diane Abbott’s maths a racist. Like I say, it was unconscious. But now I find some Tories doing the same thing when a Home Secretary of theirs who just happens to be an Asian woman and it scares me. This sort of thing is playing with fire. Going backward on ethnic minority representation should not be something we allow to happen. If this all becomes a matter of flinging race into the equation when it does not belong there in any way, we risk falling down a slippery slope.
To summarise: Priti Patel should have been sacked for breaking the ministerial code. That should be obvious to anyone not invested in a partisan way in the whole thing. And please let’s stop using race in ways that are dangerous. That’s it.