Why is Priti Patel still in her job?

JVL Introduction

Martin Kettle asks why Pritti Patel is in her job and answers: “Because the boss needs here there”

But Patel is not just anyone. She was fired from her job as international development secretary by Teresa May in 2017, for moonlighting – having secret meetings in Israel with senior officials soon after the ejection of embassy official (=spy) Shai Masot from Britain for being caught planning to take down British politicians whom the Israeli government regarded as unfriendly.

You will recall Emily Thornberry taking this very seriously, describing Masot’s remarks as a national security issue, “improper interference in our democratic politics” and calling on the government to launch an immediate inquiry. Of course it never happened…

We can but speculate, along with Guardian reporter Peter Beaumont (see below), that her visit and meetings, especially with Gilad Erdan, head of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, was connected to Israel’s attempts to undermine critics of Israel, especially those advocating BDS.

Eliding criticism of Israel with antisemitism is an integral part of Israel’s propaganda war.

This article was originally published by the Guardian on Thu 5 Mar 2020. Read the original here.

Why is Patel still in her job? Because the boss needs her there

The home secretary represents the Tory’s authoritarian wing, and her presence helps preserve party unity

Priti Patel is a very lucky home secretary. Twenty-five years ago, when Michael Howard did her current job, the Conservative party lapped up his hardline penal policy of “three strikes and you’re out”. Patel shares much of Howard’s philosophy. But she is lucky his three strikes doctrine has gone. Patel would not be in her job if it applied.

In less than a week, three separate bullying charges have been lodged against Patel. The earliest, from when she was a junior minister at the Department for Work and Pensions in 2015, centres on a formal complaint of bullying and harassment. The second, from her time as international development secretary in 2017, involves what has been called a “tsunami of allegations” as well as “shocking” bullying of her own private secretary. The third, which came in her permanent secretary’s resignation statement, accuses her of creating fear by shouting, swearing, belittling, and making unreasonable and repeated demands.

In Cummings’s world, the loss of Patel would be both a victory for the hated Whitehall “blob” and for the hated BBC

In the not so distant past, all this would have meant curtains for Patel as home secretary. Ministers and senior officials have almost routinely had difficult relationships in the past. But they almost never resulted in career officials resigning. That’s because the expectation of robust private argument over policy is sensibly hardwired into the adviser-politician relationship from the start. For it to become personally intolerable is the unusual bit. For a minister to have triggered the very public resignation of one of Whitehall’s most senior officials makes Patel’s case unique.

Bullying in Whitehall and Westminster – and indeed more generally – was a high-profile issue during the previous parliament. The Tory party relentlessly attacked the former speaker John Bercow over alleged bullying of Commons staff. There must be “no bullying and no harassment”, wrote Boris Johnson in the August 2019 issue of the official ministerial code. Working relationships should be “proper and appropriate”, the code states. Bullying will “not be tolerated”. On Wednesday, the former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs that they must behave honourably “whatever the cost”.

Yet the cost of the bullying allegations to Patel has been very slight so far. On Monday, Michael Gove called her “a superb minister doing a great job”. Spurred on by the whips, Tory backbenchers rallied around Gove to praise the home secretary. One compared her to Margaret Thatcher by dubbing Patel “the current iron lady in the home office”. On Wednesday, with Patel sitting at his side in the Commons, Johnson insisted he was “sticking by” his minister. She was, he said, “doing an outstanding job”.

Johnson and Gove are smart enough, and have been around Conservative politics long enough, to know that praise of this kind for Patel is signally unmerited. Quite apart from the extremely serious allegations that she now has to answer, Patel is not a good minister, let alone an outstanding one. Her record is thin and so is her reputation. That Patel manages to combine arrogance with stupidity, a former colleague told me this week, is “toxic and terrible”.

So why is Patel still in place? It is not as if she is a particular favourite of the No 10 chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. But it may be that Cummings’s own almost pathological antagonism towards the civil service and the media means that events have forced him and Patel into becoming allies of convenience. In Cummings’s world, the loss of Patel would be both a victory for the hated Whitehall “blob” and also for the hated BBC, which has carried – with admirable fearlessness in the circumstances – two of the most damaging stories against Patel.

For that reason, some senior Tories argue, the issue for Johnson is really about timing. In this reading, the resignation of Sajid Javid as chancellor last month gives Patel a stay of execution. Johnson could not afford to lose two of his top three ministers so quickly, especially at a time when coronavirus allows him to pose as the unifying figure he would never be over Brexit. He is therefore boxed in, and dependent upon the report by his ministerial standards adviser, Alex Allan, into Patel’s behaviour. If Allan produces a damning verdict, Johnson can then decently decide that her position is no longer sustainable. Allan would help to deflect some of the criticism that would follow from Patel’s allies.

But the real reasons are surely political and ideological. Johnson feels he needs her. Patel’s presence in his government helps to preserve party unity on the contingent terms – they will become a bit clearer in next week’s budget – set by himself and Cummings. That fact is itself remarkable, since it shows both that the party is not, in fact, as united as it pretends, and also that Johnson’s 80-seat majority does not guarantee his control over the direction of the Conservative government as decisively as it may seem.

The Tory party may have settled its arguments over Brexit. But it has not settled its arguments over the state’s role in the economy and social policy. These debates have indeed now revived. Patel stands for an essentially Thatcherite approach. At the end of a decade in which David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson have all attempted, in their very different ways, to follow something they all called “one nation” policies, Patel continues instead to emulate Thatcher’s distinctive and divisive combination of liberal possessive individualism and authoritarian social policy.

Whatever she may think about it herself, Patel is no Thatcher. But Patel as home secretary has become one of the embodiments of the Tory right’s current capture of the party. She knows it, and so does Johnson. It is why she is still there, at least for now.

Martin Kettle is a Guardian columnist.


What did Israel hope to gain from Priti Patel’s secret meetings?

The international development secretary’s covert summer trip was a gift to Israelis who seek to influence British policy in Jerusalem

Peter Beaumont, Guardian, 8th November 2017

For the second time in less than a year, Israeli efforts to discreetly influence British policy has been disclosed.

In January, the embassy official Shai Masot was caught in an al-Jazeera sting to “take down” politicians regarded as unfriendly to Israel. This time a bigger fish has been caught: the UK’s international development secretary, Priti Patel.

Official visits to Israel by senior British political figures are common, but the sensitivities are usually acute; embassy and consulate staff carefully vet the locations and personnel visited by British diplomats and ministers.

Visits are always accompanied by diplomatic staff, with agendas designed to reflect UK policy – for example, making sure to include meetings with Palestinians and groups and individuals who may not be popular with the Israeli government.

Patel’s summer trip, organised with the head of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group, skipped all those protocols, despite a timetable that was highly orchestrated – including a reported visit to an Israeli field hospital in the occupied Golan Heights, which could have taken place only with both Israeli military and political clearance.

To Israeli officials her private visit would have seemed like a gift, not least because those involved would have been immediately aware that, unaccompanied by diplomats, Patel was operating freelance.

Embedded in the more humdrum elements of her tour were three key encounters. The first was with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was “interested” in meeting her, officials told the Guardian.

Also significant were meetings with Yuval Rotem, the director general of Israel’s foreign ministry (a key appointment for Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s foreign minister), and Gilad Erdan, the abrasive minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, who is in charge of public security, strategic affairs and information.

The three – as Lord Polak would have known – represent key pillars of Israel’s international diplomacy.

“[Lord Polak] has his own network,” one senior figure involved in Israeli-British advocacy told the Guardian. The source was unaware of Patel’s visit, and suggested it had been clumsily handled.

Israel’s interest in Patel is less hard to fathom. As well as wanting to promote Israel’s image, Patel’s department is at a key intersection of Israeli interest.

The Department of International Development (DfID) gives aid to the Palestinian Authority as well as human rights groups that criticise Israel, including Amnesty International. Israel has pressed DfID to cut aid to the Palestinians due to the payments given by the Palestinian Authority to the families of people killed or jailed for involvement in attacks on Israeli targets. Patel ordered a review of some funding in 2016.

Netanyahu also raised the issue of (it turns out, non-existent) UK funding for the Israeli civil rights group Breaking the Silence with Theresa May earlier this year.

But it is Erdan’s presence in meetings with Patel that is most telling because his role is largely unconnected with the work of DfID. As public security minister he has oversight of Israel’s police; as information minister he has a propaganda role; but of most interest is his position as strategic affairs minister.

Erdan has emerged as the key figure in Israel’s international efforts against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement [BDS], and against other groups and movements that Israel accuses of seeking to delegitimise it through criticism of its human rights record.

In that context, Erdan’s ministry was asked in 2015 to “guide, coordinate and integrate the activities of all the ministers and the government and of civil entities in Israel and abroad on the subject of the struggle against attempts to delegitimise Israel and the boycott movement”.

Most controversially, Erdan has been put in charge of large-scale efforts to target foreign individuals and organisations, reportedly including staff recruited from the Mossad foreign intelligence agency, the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, and the military ntelligence directorate.

Among those who have fallen foul of Erdan’s ministry have been Isabel Phiri, a Malawian official in the World Council of Churches who was detained arriving at Ben Gurion airport and deported for alleged involvement in the BDS movement.

Earlier this month, Raed Jarrar, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International – some of whose international projects are supported by DfiD – was prevented from crossing from Jordan into the West Bank. A spokeswoman for Israel’s interior ministry said Erdan had recommended he be denied entry.

 

Comments (3)

  • Stephen Williams says:

    The field hospital in Occupied Golan was allegedly used to support al-Nusra fighters.
    We know which side in the Syrian civil was supported by Israel and the UK. Al- Nusra beheaded a twelve year-old Palestinian boy whom they claimed was a spy. This was widely reported , even in the UK press.
    Patel’s visit was more sinister than has been revealed, in my view.

  • Tim says:

    I don’t recall Thornberry or anybody else in the PLP complaining about “improper interference in our democratic politics” in reference to the on-going anti-Semitism smears and all-round character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn!

  • RC says:

    Elsewhere on this site it is reported that complaining about Patel’s trip to the Israeli-occupied Golan heights is regarded by the Labour Party thought police as an antisemitic offence, warranting administrative suspension. One might suspect that there is little need for Israel to interfere in British politics, since there are so many zealous collaborators for Israeli hasbara already in place – but too cowardly to allow any members’ scrutiny of their operations.

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