Between a rock and a hard place
The furore surrounding Priti Patel MP is an odd one. As Home Secretary, she is one of the highest-ranking Minsters in the British Government, equal to Foreign Secretary and just below Chancellor of the Exchequer in importance. She is also currently the target of what seems to be an orchestrated campaign to oust her.
“No surprise there.” People would say. “A young (47) woman of colour would naturally be a target for the white male establishment.” Normally, I’d tend to agree, but there’s something off-key here.
Priti Patel was born in London to an Indian family who came to the UK from Uganda in the 1960s and established a chain of newsagent shops. She attended a girls’ grammar school before studying at Keele and Essex Universities. She interned at Conservative Central Office before heading the press office for the (now defunct) Referendum Party. She then worked in media relations for the Conservative Party before working for some years in PR consultancy. In 2010, she stood for and won the ‘safe’ Conservative seat of Witham, which she still holds.
After the 2015 General Election, Patel was given the post of Minster of State for Employment in the Department for Work and Pensions. Under Theresa May she was Secretary of State for International Development. In 2019, Boris Johnson gave her the post of Home Secretary. An odd choice, you would have thought, for a man so frequently vilified as a British Trump, but Patels’ right-wing, Eurosceptic credentials are impeccable. She often spoke about ‘wasteful’ foreign aid, campaigned vigorously for Brexit and as Home Secretary, has spearheaded the new points-based immigration system.
However, a few days ago, the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office -the most senior civil servant in the department, answering directly to the Minister - resigned. He accused the Home Secretary of bullying and attempting to force him out. He intends to claim for ‘constructive dismissal’.
So who is this victim of bullying? Sir Philip Rutnam, KCB is 54 years old, was educated at Dulwich College (a top ranking Public School), Trinity Hall, Cambridge and Harvard University. He has worked for Morgan Stanley, the Treasury and Ofcom (the telecommunications regulator). He was Director General at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, then Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport before moving to the Home Office in 2017. He has also been Civil Service Disability Champion. He became a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 2018. A quintessential, old school Whitehall mandarin.
So what is going on here? Men like Sir Philip are not easily bullied, and they have other, less extreme, methods of removing undesirable Ministers. In 2018, the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was manoeuvred into resigning by the simple expedient of being sent ‘misleading’ emails by Home Office staff, causing her to publicly deny something everyone else knew to be true. It was said that Sir Philip ‘presided over’ this culture of obfuscation. It’s one of the most tried and tested ways of removing a Minister. A person in his position does not have to sacrifice his career simply to remove a Minister, and certainly would not do so only because the Minster concerns happens to be a woman of colour. That would be defeating his own object, surely? To sacrifice the inevitable peerage, with the seat in the House of Lords, not to mention the consultancies and seats on boards that come with retirement from top-level Civil Service posts? Because that’s what he’s done. In the eyes of his peers, he has shown himself weak. He’ll be lucky to work anywhere again after this. And all because he’s desperate to get a brown woman out of a post he believes should belong to a white man? I rather think not. Not with the whole Whitehall Old Pals Network at his beck and call! That group of Public School, Oxbridge white males are the most powerful people in the country. If they wanted Priti Patel gone, she’d be gone!
But what about Patel herself? She’s been a magnet for controversy. Her PR work for the tobacco and alcohol industries has had her in bad odour with the New Puritans of the Left as well as the Old Puritans of the Right. She lost her post as Secretary of State for International Development, being forced to resign after attending ‘meetings where official business was discussed’ with various organisations in Israel, without the Foreign Offices’ knowledge or consent.
Also, in 2015, while Patel was working at the DWP, an employee was dismissed. that person subsequently brought a complaint of unfair dismissal, bullying and discrimination against the Department in general and Patel in particular. The case was settled out of court with a payment of £25 000, no liability admitted.
Since Sir Philip Rutnam resigned, other reported cases of Patel bullying employees have surfaced. Now I tend to take such creepers out of the woodwork with about a kilo of salt, but official records do exist, and an enquiry has been launched, albeit an internal one, without much of the usual twisting and wriggling.
So we have our rock. According to the received wisdom of progressive thinking (or the doubleplusgood duckspeaking of the ‘fashionably woke’, take your pick), no woman of colour can be anything other than a victim in such a scenario. The agitation to have her removed must, ipso facto be a patriarchal, white supremacist conspiracy.
That same wisdom, by the way, assumes that any such person must, equally ipso facto, be of the left, or a progressive. But Priti Patels’ politics have always been of the Thatcherite, Eurosceptic, anti-welfare state, anti-immigration, anti- foreign aid, slightly to the right of Attila the Hun, stripe.
The hard place on the other side is the distinct but unpalatable possibility that Priti Patel may just be an arrogant, bullying bitch. To suggest that she may just be taking the opportunity to turn the tables on the racists and sexists is to ignore the fact that she has never once played the race or gender cards in her own defence. She has always defended herself on the same grounds and by the same methods that a white man might have reasonably used. This is in contrast to her opposite number, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who has built an entire career around brandishing both those cards in everyones’ faces. In fairness, Diane Abbott is also one of the most thoroughly unpleasant people in Parliament (which is saying a great deal, bearing in mind that very few politicians seem to have had mothers who had anything more than a passing acquaintance with their fathers).
So, victim or bully? If the subject of the question had been white, or male, or both, the answer would be easy: look for evidence. But when the subject is a woman of colour, even when evidence seems to exist….Problem!