Charles Moore believes that ‘a special animus’ is directed towards Priti Patel by portions of the left simply because she is ‘Indian, female and firmly Tory’. While I wouldn’t deny that there is a bizarre form of racism on the left in these matters – the ‘we own the BMEs’ sentiment that they never realise really is completely racist – there are several problems with this argument. The first is that this sounds an awful lot like the identity politics the right is always railing against. You can’t have it both ways – complain that the left always yells ‘racism’ whenever Diane Abbott gets opprobrium for saying something silly and then use the exact same excuse when it’s Priti Patel getting the stick.
The other problem with Moore’s argument is that Priti Patel is in fact a very, very bad Home Secretary in an objective sense. And just so we’re clear here and we can this out of the way, the fact that she is Indian, female and Tory has nothing whatsoever to do with this.
Patel is an odd combination of ruthlessly authoritarian and embarrassingly prone to gaffes. Her perfect society is seemingly one in which mistakes are punished without miss and yet she is a constant contravenor of her own rules. What Westminster watcher doesn’t recall the ‘counter-terrorism’ routine? For those who missed it or don’t remember, Priti Patel spent a day going around London, doing interviews with numerous media outlets, in which she constantly referred to terrorists or terrorism as ‘counter-terrorists’ or ‘counter-terrorism’. Referring to a terrorist attack which had happened extremely recently, she said of the perpetrator that he ‘clearly had a history in relation to counter-terrorism offences’. She went on to talk further about ‘counter-terrorism offenders’, which just for reference, isn’t actually a thing.
If she’d said it once, offhand, that would have been completely forgivable. It must be stressed here that to be the Home Secretary and confuse terrorism and counter-terrorism once, in the heat of the moment, whilst silly can be explained by the tension of the moment. But Patel kept saying it, over and over again, pointing to the idea that she really somehow thought terrorism and counter-terrorism, as in, the opposite of terrorism, were one and the same thing.
If Priti Patel were just a little gaffe prone, she wouldn’t even deserve particular singling out amongst this cabinet, which is full of people who should be nowhere near a ministerial post, never mind amongst the many poor Home Secretaries we’ve ever had. Theresa May springs to mind as one for instance. No, what makes Priti Patel so notably bad boils down to two things: the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 and her department’s current plans to lock up journalists for 14 years for reporting on leaks.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 is for the most part a reaction to the tearing down of the statue in Bristol. I understand that episode was unpleasant and that there have been other instances where the police have seemed scared to engage in stopping public disorder. Yet it seems obvious to me the answer to this must be around police protocol and training. The cops already had the powers to halt protestors dumping Edward Colston into the harbour last year; they didn’t need more help under the law or for there to be tougher sentencing in place to stop it from happening.
This gets to the heart of where I think Priti Patel and many who take the same approach to law and order get it so wrong. While sentencing can of course be too light and act then as a lack of deterrent to crime as a result, this is rarely the case. What’s much, much more often at fault is that the perpetrator of a crime feels like their chances of getting caught for it are very low. Take corruption. If you want to stamp out grifting in a country or an institution, the secret isn’t to make the penalty for getting caught steep; it’s making the chances of getting caught for it very likely. The penalty doesn’t even have to be that great for this to work wonders. If you’ll lose your job and your pension for corruption and there’s even a 50-50 chance of getting caught for it – and crucially, the punishment is enforced in almost every case – people will stop the behaviour, en masse, very quickly.
Then we come to the whole locking up journalists for 14 years malarkey. Under current legislation, whistleblowers, those who leak unclassified documents to the press, and foreign agents looking to do the UK actual harm are all treated very differently, as you might intuitively expect. The Home Office plans would do away with these distinctions and make any publishing of any government leak become a criminal offence – with some steep prison sentences available to offenders. This represents nothing less than the devaluation of the UK as a liberal democracy. If any and all information pertaining to the government that the government itself does not place in the public domain is criminally off-limits, the ability of the media to hold the government to account will be severely diminished.
There are more complaints I could make about Priti Patel as Home Secretary – I haven’t even got to the part about how she annoyed the entirety of the police force across the country recently – but gravely endangering the state of liberal democracy via clamping down on the rights of citizens to peacefully protest while also taking away the means for the media to hold the government to account are enough to make her the worst ever holder of the position in my books.
While I’m here, I’ve got a new book coming out in the autumn entitled The Patient. It’s about a woman who goes into the hospital to give birth to her child, being two weeks overdue….and ends up staying in the hospital for a year, still pregnant the whole time. If you want to find out more, here’s where you can have a better look.