UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Last week UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a “reset” in his Government’s approach after the sacking of his controversial advisor Dominic Cummings.
That didn’t last long.
On Friday, sources confirmed that a Cabinet Office inquiry into Home Secretary Priti Patel, over the bullying of staff, had effectively found her guilty and concluded that she broke the Ministerial Code of behavior. The Home Secretary had not consistently met the high standards required — “treating her civil servants with consideration and respect” — as she engaged in “shouting and swearing”.
Normally, the finding of a code violation would lead to a minister’s dismissal or resignation, including on the last five occasions. But Johnson sprung to Patel’s defense, and issued a WhatsApp order to Conservative MPs to rally around “the Prittster”.
Ministerial Standards head Sir Alex Allan, who led the inquiry, resigned. But Johnson persisted with his rejection of the report, saying he did not think Patel was a bully and had “full confidence” in her as she had “unintentionally” caused distress.
The Home Secretary then released a statement “that my behaviour in the past has upset people”, but couched it in excuses: “I am direct and have at times got frustrated….It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone.”
The Rise of the Prittster
So here we are with the UK’s political institutions. Having been promised by this Brexiteer Government that we would “Take Back Control”, all control — of law and order, of ethics, of morality, and of dignity — has been lost. From Coronavirus-related corruption and deadly failures in dealing with the outbreak to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s exams fiasco to the deliberate breaking of international law and disregard of Parliament over Brexit to the distraction of “culture wars” — there appear to be no more lows to which this government can sink.
Except we are dealing with a government which includes Boris Johnson and Priti Patel.
Before continuing, let me apologize on behalf of the 150,000 Patels in the UK for the abhorrent behavior of the “Prittster”. She does not speak for me, or for the vast majority of hardworking, honest, and ethical Patels.
This is a Patel who smugly said, “I would support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent, because I do think that we do not have enough deterrents in this country for criminals.”
After she was appointed as Home Secretary in 2019, she backtracked — in fact, lied: “I have never said I’m an active supporter of[the death penalty] and [what I said] is constantly taken out of context.”
Patel’s stock rose in the Conservative Party after the 2016 Brexit referendum, in which she was a leading Vote Leave campaigner. She was appointed Secretary of State for International Development, even though she had suggested the department should be scrapped.
But in 2017, she was summoned from Kenya and told to resign by Prime Minister Theresa May, after it was discovered that she held up to 12 unofficial meetings with Israeli officials while on a “private holiday” to the country. For the rest of the May Government, she did penance on the Conservative backbenches while causing trouble during the impasse over Brexit discussions.
However, in 2019 she was back, rewarded with the Home Office for her support of Johnson’s maneuvers into 10 Downing Street. The Prittster was to deliver two of Boris’s electoral pledges, restricting immigration and recruiting 20,000 extra police officers. She was also a commander in the waging of “culture wars”: since she was the a daughter of refugees who fled Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1972, who dare say that her stigmatizing of minorities inside and outside the UK is racist?
She has struggled at times. Questioned by Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, about how many immigrants have entered the UK, she fiddled with her papers and looked very much out of her depth. And there was her repeated confusion of “counter-terrorism” with “terrorism”.
But Patel is not Home Secretary because of competence or judgement. She is there because she is blindly loyal to Boris Johnson.
Arrogance Trumps Competence
UK security services do not share information with Patel because they “don’t trust her“. A Home Office official confirmed, after the departure of her Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam, that her bullying was “exactly as reported” and that she is “universally loathed”. Drawing from multiple sources, Otto English of Byline Times summarized:
The essential problem is that ‘she doesn’t listen to facts and can’t understand why she can’t get her own way when things are not allowed. The general feel is people aren’t sure if she is incompetent, ambitiously self-serving, or both.
So Johnson’s text to the Conservative Party MP WhatApp group, “Let’s build a wall around the Prittster”, invokes the Eton schoolboy tactics of politics. When one of your adopted chums is found out for bullying, defend her as the supposed victims of bullies.
MPs like Jacob Young, who function as the loudspeakers of Tory spin doctors, Twitter-marched to Boris’s orders:
A female, BAME, daughter of immigrants who:
• speaks out against the “woke” left
• won’t vote the way they say she should
• wants controlled immigration
• dared to become Home Secretary
Of course they want to tear her down. pic.twitter.com/BaHe4vHoz1
— Jacob Young MP (@JacobYoungMP) November 20, 2020
So rather than the issue being about a Minister who broke the Code of Conduct but remains in post, it is mangled into another volley in the Johnson-Patel “culture wars”.
Patel will always be a polarizing figure, a right-wing agitprop politician who exploits situations by blaming immigrants and “lefty lawyers”. But now she represents a broader reality: there is no “reset” in this government.
As the Brexit and Coronavirus hurricanes converge on UK shores in 2021, Johnson and his ministers will deflect. They will blame, deny, and lie. Accused of being unethical, they will portray themselves as the victims of those who call for responsibility. They will operate on the Dunning-Kruger Effect: our work is great even when it is terrible.
The lesson of the Prittster — This is not about competence. It’s about arrogance.