For some weeks now, people have been wondering where the Home Secretary Priti Patel had disappeared to. After all, she has one of the most senior cabinet posts in the British government, she outranks the likes of Michael Gove or Matt Hancock who have been appearing regularly to avoid giving answers to questions at the British government’s daily press conferences. Yet one of the most senior members of the British government has been invisible. But rejoice! She’s alive! Well, insofar as a person notable mostly for their complete absence of anything that could be described as compassion, empathy, emotional life, or indeed basic humanity, could be described as alive.
Priti Patel came out of her self-imposed isolation on Saturday to hold the daily British government press conference. For the past few weeks we’ve been irritated by Home Secretary’s absence from the public scene, and now we have discovered that that’s an irritation which is only exceeded by the irritation of her returning to it.
While there are very few things that unite the increasingly disparate UK these days, Priti Patel’s appearance was one of them. As one the entire UK wished that she would go back into hiding. Priti Patel has few notable skills or talents, save the ability to make you ask yourself the question, “Is this misogyny or is Priti Patel really that awful?” But it takes only an instant for you to know the answer: yes, she really is that awful. After days and days of people on social media demanding to know where the Home Secretary was – well, are you happy now?
Her appearance proved two things, firstly that the British government’s handling of this crisis had, at least until Saturday, been right in at least one thing. That was the decision to keep Priti Patel out of the public eye. And this, let us never forget, is a government with Michael Gove and Dominic Raab in it. The only reason she was ever given the position of Home Secretary was because she provided a veneer of acceptability to Tory racism. And secondly it proves that criticism of Priti Patel is not because she’s a powerful Asian woman in a post which has hitherto been occupied mainly by white men. No. It’s because if you look into the soul of Priti Patel you are gazing into the lowest pits of Hell itself, home to the deepest and most malign evil.
Priti has only two modes. There’s smirking Priti, and there’s cold, hard, and unblinking Priti. Since even she possessed the tiniest smidgeon of self-awareness necessary to realise that smirking was deeply inappropriate on this occasion, we mostly got robo-Priti instead. Although that didn’t prevent her inner smirk from breaking surface. There are concrete bollards which are capable of greater empathy. I was half expecting her to announce the death penalty for anyone caught in the special buys aisle in Aldi. You shall put an electric BBQ in your shopping trolley on pain of death. Still, let’s be generous. It can’t have been easy for her to deliver this press conference seeing as how everything that the British government has to say these days amounts to a tacit admission that the NHS needs migrants after all.
We learned that “three hundred thousand and thirty four nine hundred and seventy four thousand tests” had been carried out across the UK. That’s numberwang! Here we got counting according to a special form of numbering known only to Priti Patel. I give her performance 300 hundred thousand and eleventy seven out of ninety canteen.
To be fair to her, she misspoke. It was a simple error. Three hundred thousand and thirty four nine hundred and seventy four is really the number of people that she wants to deport. The hostile environment she has led at the Home Office still goes on unchecked and still continues to threaten the lives of those being held in immigration detention centres in the middle of a pandemic. This is a politician who wants to bring back the death penalty, who believes that poverty is not the fault of government policies, and who is quite happy with a no deal Brexit. Innumeracy is the least of her failings.
But her innumeracy was as nothing compared to her response when asked whether the government would apologise for the lack of personal protection equipment for frontline NHS staff and for the deaths that have resulted. “I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings,” Priti replied in a classic non-apology apology of the sort given by a sulking teenager. It’s not the government that has done anything wrong, it’s your responsibility for having a faulty perception. Priti Patel doesn’t do apologies, and neither does the British government. Because an apology is an acknowledgement that they were wrong, and that would never do. This is a British government which deep down in the dark void which passes for its soul believes that it has a god-given right to rule in perpetuity.
Priti Patel would be bad enough if she was an isolated outlier of crass inhumanity. Sadly she’s not. She’s very much in the mainstream of modern British Conservatism in all its crassness, its arrogance, its view of empathy and compassion as a weakness, its deep rooted belief in British exceptionalism, and its pursuit of private gain over the public good. She is cut from the same objectionable cloth as Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, and the braying brainless donkeys who occupy the Conservative back benches. These are the people who dominate the Conservative party, who preside over a crushing majority in the Commons, who will determine the future of British politics for many years to come. Priti Patel is not a political aberration, she’s the shape of things to come.
One day we can hope to see a cure for the virus. There is no cure for Priti Patel, for Dominic Raab, for Michael Gove, and the rest of them. But once this crisis has passed it becomes a matter of the survival of basic common decency in public life that we have another independence referendum so that Scotland can vote to self-isolate from Priti Patel and her Tory counterparts for good. The lesson of this crisis is not that Scotland needs the UK in order to survive, it’s that Scotland needs to escape from the UK in order to survive.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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