Priti Patel with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Priti Patel with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The disgraced former minister Priti Patel is back in government with her own brand of toxic politics that must be opposed by the left, argues David McAllister

Britain’s new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is a reactionary loose cannon of the worst kind.  Her secret meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers, under the guise of a ‘holiday’, deepened the crisis of the vulnerable May government to such an extent that there were several days of stalling before her forced resignation. It was also revealed that Patel was seeking to allocate funds meant for international aid towards the Israeli military.

Normally, it might be hard to imagine someone with her record of recklessness being seen back in any kind of front bench role, still less a major one.  The fact that Boris Johnson has propelled her to the role of Home Secretary shows two things. 

First of all, it indicates the depth of the Tory crisis. For the last 3 years, the main party of British capital has been lumbered by a popular vote with the task carrying out a leave policy which the vast bulk of British capital rejects.  This has fed into the deadlock of the British parliament, numerous resignations and spats, and has caused divisions within the Tory ranks to deepen to unmanageable levels, making a government based on consensus ever harder to assemble.  The second reason comes from Boris Johnson’s own calculations in response.  By assembling a hard-right war cabinet, Johnson, despite the pandering rhetoric about education funding and the like, is looking to turbo charge austerity in the hopes that it will boost profitability and quell anxiety amongst big business in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We need only look at Patel’s record to see how she would fit in with this plan.

As an unreconstituted and unapologetic Thatcherite, Patel is part of a small group of people on the hard right of the party, also now cabinet ministers, who co-wrote a book in 2012 called Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity, which appears to have come straight from the playbook of open Thatcherite class warfare.  While championing those they see as the ‘wealth creators’ (ie. capitalists), the book calls for a greater slashing of regulations, a lowering of corporate tax and a rolling back of the welfare state.  Also, recycling a favoured soundbite of the political right for the last 30-or-so years, it decries the growth of ‘welfare dependency’.

The following passage demonstrates no ambiguity at all from Patel and her co-authors about the level of their contempt and hostility for working people. 

“Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor… we must stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk, and rewarding laziness.”

No doubt plenty of teachers, social workers, carers, firefighters, call centre workers and others – many of whom depend on universal credit to subsidise the wages they get from their torturously long hours while retirement appears ever further away – will read this and fail to recognise anything about this scenario. 

Not wanting to conceal where they stand internationally, the authors single out the economic ‘miracle’ of Israel for delivering prosperity for taking risks, as opposed to the ‘health and safety’ industry which apparently hampers growth in Britain. We can read this as protections of people’s working standards, their rights in the workplace, and any other ‘red tape’ which gets in the way of profit-making.

Perhaps their definition of ‘risk taking’ and ‘miracle’ also includes the appropriation of Palestinian land and the building of illegal settlements?

This reveals, in part, the close relationship between propping up the interests of the British ruling class domestically through neoliberalism and austerity, and propping them up internationally through support and funding for the Israeli apartheid regime. 

Patel’s unauthorised meetings with Israeli ministers, should therefore not be seen as isolated incidents. They are far more than just a breaking of the ministerial code. They reveal the depth of mutually vested interests between Israel and Britain in controlling the Middle East, its people and its resources, which has bred a situation in which hard rightists like Patel have attempted to run their own foreign policy. Incredibly (or perhaps predictably) she called for a more independent aid policy in which the UK alone decides what constitutes aid. Given the content of her meetings with Israeli ministers, this clearly expresses a wish for international aid to be subordinated to the ruthless pursuit of Western interests around the world as opposed to poverty relief. 

As Home Secretary, Priti Patel is committed to increasing stop and search powers by the police, which past experience shows will disproportionately target young black males. The accompanying boost in police numbers to feed this right-wing authoritarian agenda should really serve as a lesson to the left, particularly the Labour left, that opposing police cuts, or supporting an increase in police numbers, has no place in a genuine anti-austerity programme, based as it is on controlling communities as opposed to addressing the economic roots of social problems such as violent crime.

On immigration, Patel insists that, after Brexit, immigrants must earn a minimum of £36,000 to stay in the country. This draconian minimum salary is based on the classic argument about migrant labour being the cause of low wages, as opposed to the suppression of wages by both the private and public sector for a generation. Corbyn and the left should continue to campaign for an increase in the minimum wage for all workers, wherever they come from. It also displays ignorance about the amount of skill which exists amongst workers well below the £36,000 target. This is a matter of who is to blame for low wages, a greedy neoliberal system or migrant labour. Priti Patel makes it very clear which side she is on. 

Priti Patel and her politics represent everything the left should build an alternative to. Despite the framing of the crisis around Brexit, the priorities of the Tories, and the class they represent, remain unchanged. With another reckless imperial adventure against Iran and a general election both on the horizon, the stakes have never been higher. The demonstration at the Tory Party conference in Manchester on 29th September 2019, which needs to be built in every locality, will provide a focal point for the alternative to austerity, racism and war.