In defence of Priti Patel

The media-class loathing for the home secretary has a nasty racist undertone.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Topics Politics UK

Andrew Marr’s rebuke of Priti Patel on his BBC TV show on Sunday morning was a very revealing moment. Halfway through telling the home secretary about the terrible economic things that might happen if we have a No Deal Brexit he said to her ‘I can’t see why you are laughing’, in the style of a headmaster telling off a wayward child. It felt rude and paternalistic and more than a little sexist. Patel wasn’t even laughing. Her face was simply in its resting position as she patiently waited for Marr to finish reading from his script of doom before she gave her answer.

Yet the people who would normally kick up a fuss about a snooty BBC man needlessly reprimanding a female politician have been curiously quiet. In fact some of them have lapped up Marr’s insulting of Patel. They have cheered him for putting this allegedly arrogant, smirking woman back in her box. Know your place, Patel.

Among the chattering classes and the Twitterati, there is a curious loathing of Patel. She gets more stick than any other member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet. And strikingly much of it focuses on her appearance, on her facial mannerisms, on what her detractors presume to be her cockiness. Members of the Remainer elite denounce her ‘creepy smirk’. ‘Why does Priti Patel always bear the look of a dastardly villain?’, asks one. She’s a ‘sociopath’, apparently. Even when people are criticising her for her policy – such as her opposition to freedom of movement or her determination to be tough on crime – they tend to add a comment on her smirking, her outright temerity.

The obsession with Patel’s smirk – or what many might simply see as her smile, as her natural resting face as she listens to people – feels distinctly like an attack on Patel for being… well, uppity. This uppity Asian woman behaving so arrogantly – who the hell does she think she is? The middle-class, largely white Remainers who have a particular loathing for Patel are really wondering out loud why this daughter of immigrants believes she is allowed to behave in such a right-wing way. Doesn’t she know that immigrants are not meant to believe or say right-leaning things, and certainly not while wearing a smirk? Perhaps she needs some lessons on how to be a good immigrant in 21st-century Britain.

The loathing of Patel speaks to a key prejudice in middle-class political circles – the prejudice against Indian-origin Britons who lean towards the Tories. Britain’s well-integrated and successful Indian-origin communities have been moving towards voting Tory for a few years now. In the 2015 General Election, the Tories received more than one million ethnic-minority votes for the first time – and a great many of those votes came from Indian-origin communities. A post-election survey found that the Tories enjoyed 49 per cent popularity among Britain’s Hindu and Sikh communities, where Labour enjoyed 41 per cent popularity. British Indians were also more likely than any other ethnic-minority group to support Brexit.

Some on the left view Indian support for the Tories as tantamount to race betrayal. This became clear when Patel was made home secretary by Boris Johnson. Instead of celebrating the fact that Patel was the first Indian-origin home secretary – her predecessor Sajid Javid was the first Pakistani-origin home secretary – the woke, identitarian lobby essentially accused her of being an Uncle Tom.

She was denounced in the Huffington Post as a ‘pawn in white supremacy’, as if she has no agency at all. A Guardian writer said she was a minister ‘with brown skin wearing [a] Tory mask’. Patel’s opposition to freedom of movement is frequently bound up with the issue of her race – she is effectively seen as a traitor to brown and black people.

Describing Patel as an agency-lacking pawn of ‘Tory racism’ and a brown-faced enforcer of white male supremacy is explicitly racist. It reduces Patel to her skin colour. She is judged entirely on the basis of race. Worse, it is presumed that as a member of a particular race she ought to conform to certain political views. Non-whites are all meant to believe the same things and support the same parties, right? Such racial reductionism, where ethnic and immigrant groups are expected to behave like an indistinguishable and obedient political bloc, is explicitly racist.

In the hatred for Patel, in the hints that she is an Uncle Tom, in the weird media-class obsession with her smirk, we can see how easily identity politics crosses the line into old-fashioned racism. The identitarian set’s reduction of people to mere representatives of groups, to little more than racial and cultural creatures, erases the space for individual thinking and active agency and demands that non-whites think and behave in one way only. That’s a more racist idea than anything I have ever heard from Priti Patel or the rest of Boris’s cabinet.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Mark McDermott

30th October 2019 at 4:41 pm

Brendan you’ll really are a complete hack. There’s absolutely no evidence for your thesis. It’s absolute speculative tosh. You know what I think Jeremy Corbyn suffers prejudice because he has a beard. Yes clean shaven people don’t like beardies. Ridiculous? Not anymore than the rubbish you’ve written here. Patel’s unpopularity stems from the fact that she is a bought politician for whom honesty, integrity and compassion are for the birds. Shes a self serving extreme right neoliberal zealot and her race and gender don’t come into it.

hannu gosolo

23rd October 2019 at 2:29 pm

From an ethnic minority perspective, I should feel proud to see a female Asian stepping up to the mark in politics. However, this is not a woman I feel any affinity with, or respect for. She represents all the things that I completely despise and reject. Any human being who speaks in favour of corporal punishment is nothing but a gutter animal. Any human being whose parents were migrants should consider carefully their own good fortune, vis a vis those who are less fortunate. It represents a view that speaks: “well I’ve got my cake and enjoying it. Sod the rest of the gutter scum that my dear dada left behind back in Uganda (and India for that mater)”. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion and expressing it, but be prepared to be scrutinised by all and sundry. Politicians are not the cleanest, honest and transparent of people. This woman is a classic example! Probably whilst filling her mouth full of the tobacconists’ gold, she clearly had her eyes on bigger things! It is not her race or her facial ‘expressions’ that make me cringe. It is her snake-like ability to manoeuvre her way back from the back benches (she should have been sacked from the Party) to this position of power. This is a woman who wandered quite deliberately past her pay grade whilst on ‘holiday’ in Africa and Israel. Not to be trusted. It matters not what she looks like, what colour her skin is, or her sex. It is more important to understand what she stands for in a progressive society, and to a lesser extent whose posterior she has her head buried up – today. If the opportunities are better the other side of the fence, I expect she’ll be the first across the road. A nasty human being, probably born with that idiotic smirk painted permanently on that dumb-ass face! God forbid she goes any further than this in politics. GB is a multicultural society and I for one welcome people of different backgrounds (and I have no issues with being called a BEM) establishing themselves in society and making a real and meaningful difference for the betterment of our society. This woman represents a breed of human being that is filled with self aggrandisement, power and selfishness. Judge my comments as you will. I am not dissimilar to this woman in terms of colour, religion and background. But, I can see the nature of this woman in her behaviours, opinions and track record, for what its worth. Based on what I have seen to date, I have little respect or time for her and her ilk….

Mark McDermott

30th October 2019 at 4:31 pm

Completely agree

Davie Bee

22nd February 2020 at 3:00 am

Brilliant, she’s a snake with titties

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