Tom Goodenough

Has Priti Patel found the answer to Corbynism?

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What’s the antidote to Corbyn? Thatcher, according to Priti Patel. Britain’s former PM might be public enemy number one in the eyes of the Corbynistas, but it’s vital the Tories return to Thatcher’s ideas and her way of doing things. That, at least, is the verdict of Patel, the Brexit-backing former international development secretary. Patel said that Britain is now at a crossroads: a similar juncture to the one it faced when Thatcher came to power in the seventies. Back then, she said, regressive socialism was in danger of taking control. The same is happening now, according to the Tory MP, and it’s vital that the Conservatives and the government learns from a prime minister that ‘fought the left very successfully’.

It might seem like a distant memory now, but it’s worth remembering that the Tory party’s current leader was once frequently compared to Thatcher. A snap election disaster and various blunders since have put paid to May ever again being seen as the new Iron Lady. But is there any way that the Tories under May – and her apparently gloomy chancellor, Philip Hammond – can imitate Thatcher? Patel wasn’t optimistic, and it’s hard to find fault with her withering analysis of what is going wrong with the current direction of the government:

‘We are the party in government and the reality is that if we want to be really regressive in our language, and in our outlook, we are going to be quite unappealing. So I would have thought our party leaders, people at the top of our party and government…they have got so many levers they can use to… (they need to) be ambitious for our country. Politics is about people. Politics is about your country’s place in the world, and I don’t doubt their motivations at all. I know that they want our country to be successful but I do think they need to listen to some ideas, spend some time with activists and absorb a whole tranche of ideas, look differently.’

So what’s gone wrong? The Tories’ time in office – now eight years and counting – is possibly contributing to the feeling that the party is getting stale and running out of ideas. This, of course, adds up to a big worry for the party at a time where Corbyn's Labour look invigorated. Patel, who was speaking at a CPS event on the Tory fringes, seems to agree that her party must look elsewhere for its ideas:

‘...we’ve been consumed by statism, the blob, or group think… We have to look through everything from a Conservative lens and I would encourage my colleagues to do much more of that, because they are not doing that and they have got to realise that they are not doing it as well.’

But it isn’t only negativity that can harm the Tories’ chances at the next election, according to Patel. Boris Johnson warned in his Sunday Times interview today that you can’t beat ‘Corbyn by becoming Corbyn’. It won’t come as much of a surprise that his fellow Brexiteer and fellow former minister is singing from the same hymn sheet. Patel said it was vital that the party is confident about conservative beliefs and values. She said that, for too many Tory MPs, their conservatism was an embarrassment and that they should do more to speak up for it in order to defeat the threat posed by the Labour party under Corbyn. But how can a government short on ideas – and consumed by Brexit – achieve that? Patel’s suggestion is that the answer is staring the party in the face. Asked what Tory MPs in marginal constituencies can do in order to cement their position come the next election, Patel said that the party itself must make it clear that it can be trusted to go through with its promises. And what better way to do than to deliver Brexit?

‘We’ve got to walk the talk and one of the policies is to actually deliver Brexit. So many of those (marginal) seats were big Brexit constituencies, and for them it is a bold move…I think there are a couple of things we need to do: show that we can be trusted to deliver what we promised…and then, of course, we have got to address the associated Brexit issues, such as migration, the labour market, do much more on alternative jobs.’

Patel is clearly an ambitious figure in the Tory party and fancies herself, one day, perhaps, as a future leader. The debacle that led to her departure from the cabinet may have put paid to her chances for the time being. But Patel’s assessment of the state of play certainly went down well with the Tory grassroots.

Written byTom Goodenough

Tom Goodenough is the Spectator's online editor.

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