Brendan O’Neill

Priti Patel and the ugly prejudice of her critics

Priti Patel and the ugly prejudice of her critics
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Isn’t it amazing how all the woke rules for how to talk about women and people of colour go flying out the window when it comes to Priti Patel? You can say anything you like about Patel and the PC set won’t bat an eyelid. In fact they will cheer you on. Patel is possibly the only female, Asian-heritage public figure in the UK who enjoys absolutely none of the protections of political correctness. It’s always open season on Priti.

So for years we have been told that we shouldn’t call successful women ‘bossy’ or ‘bitchy’. Those are sexist insults against women who have simply shown the kind of resolve and determination that men are celebrated for, feminists say. And they have a point. But this rule against calling powerful women bitches never applies to Patel. She is constantly depicted as ruthless and scheming.

Witness the latest claims about her ‘bullying’. Apparently she has been bullying the poor old blokes in the civil service. According to insider reports on Patel’s various reigns of terror in government departments, her bullying has included strutting out of her office and bellowing: ‘Why is everyone so fucking useless?’ Which, to be honest, is exactly what I would say if I ever had an audience with our increasingly sclerotic civil service.

This isn’t bullying. It’s the person in charge demanding some answers. There is something faintly tragic about the way in which high-pressure work situations are increasingly being redefined as ‘bullying’, to the extent that even seasoned civil servants are blubbing into their macchiatos over getting a bollocking from the boss.

The view of Patel as a sharp-elbowed schemer, a ruthless invader of a world she doesn’t really belong in (hmm, interesting), is also captured in the obsession with what is referred to as Patel’s ‘smirk’. Who can forget Andrew Marr reprimanding Patel live on air for laughing during a discussion of the apparently terrible consequences of a no-deal Brexit, when she clearly wasn’t laughing at all: her resting face is simply a smile. If Marr had so ungraciously upbraided any other female politician for showing disrespect, there would have been uproar. But not with Patel. Say what you like.

The prejudice that Patel is a nasty smirker, a kind of smiling witch, lives on. This weekend, the Guardian’s Marina Hyde referred to her as the ‘perma-smirking’ home secretary. I’m not being funny, but for Hyde to criticise others for smirking is rather like Elton John criticising people for being spendthrifts. Aren’t Hyde’s columns really just 1,000-word smirks?

More strikingly, Hyde refers to Patel as ‘madam’. Oof. This captures one of the key liberal-elite prejudices about Patel: that she really thinks she’s something. That she has ideas, or at least mannerisms, above her station. I really hope they don’t go any further down this critical route in particular.

And then there’s the race thing. One good rule of political life is that you shouldn’t focus on an individual’s race or heritage. Instead, you should judge them by what they believe and what they do. Yet even this civilised, post-racial ideal gets brushed aside where Patel is concerned.

In the Guardian, Kehinde Andrews said Patel is simply one of Boris’s ‘ministers with brown skin wearing Tory masks’. What a convoluted way to say Uncle Tom. A writer for the Huffington Post says Patel is being ‘used as a pawn in white supremacy’. This utterly denudes Patel of her agency, reducing her to an unwitting stooge in a grand scheme she doesn’t truly understand.

Musa Okwonga describes Patel as a ‘racial gatekeeper’ who acts as the public face of ‘a group of white people with racially regressive views’. Most shockingly of all, Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal suggests Patel is a product of ‘cultural eugenics’, in that she is ‘Indian in blood and colour’ but English in every other respect.

Some people might refer to that as successful integration. Not the Patel-bashers. To them it’s a species of eugenics, and Patel — being so keen to please her white masters — is its most successful product. This is really ugly stuff.

The double standards in the woke lobby can be glimpsed if we think about their reaction to some of the terrible things that have been said about Diane Abbott. There are some idiots on the internet who don’t only criticise Abbott’s political views — which is absolutely fine — but who view her as a stooge of white socialist men or who obsess over her skin colour and her ‘madam’-like tendencies (posh voice, etc). And leftish commentators have rightly called that stuff out.

And yet now they do the very same to Patel. They reduce her to her skin colour. They depict her as dumb. They hint that she is a bitch, or at least a bully. There is an undeniably sexist and even racist component to the obsession with the wicked, smirking nasty woman in the Home Office.

Some on the left seem to believe that all people of colour should share the left’s increasingly narrow, PC views, and if they don’t they are traitors. This is a demand for racial conformism, for racial groupthink. It fails to see people of colour and people of Asian heritage as individuals, with agency and autonomy, capable of deciding for themselves what political views they should hold.

Fundamentally, what these people hate about Patel is that she is taking a stand against their worldview. In being tough on crime, outspoken about terrorism, and determined to make good on the vote for Brexit, Patel grates against the beliefs and attitudes of the liberal, leftish sections of society. She is reintroducing firmness, authority and judgement into a public realm that had become riddled with relativism and moral cowardice, and they will never forgive her for that. So it’s gloves off. They’re out to get the bitch.