There have been a whole host of reactions to Wednesday’s Prexit (the resignation of Priti Patel from the cabinet). After Patel’s unofficial meetings with officials in the Israeli government – including a discussion about channeling aid via the Israeli army – were exposed, Theresa May wrote her a gushing goodbye letter, commending her assistance in the government’s work to “build a truly Global Britain”.
Conversely, Crispin Blunt, a senior Conservative MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Youth Justice, told Sky News that Patel had been “accelerated” throughout her political career due to her Asian-British heritage, and gender.
Speaking about the career path of the now former International Development Secretary, Blunt remarked:
“She’s a great British Asian representative in the Conservative Party and has been accelerated through to very senior positions because we need good advocates of the whole community representing our party”
Blunt added a caveat to his celebration of her role:
“I’m not saying [that she is under qualified] but (…) to have a British Asian woman in a senior position in the Conservative Party is a great asset for us.”
Priti Patel has made some unforgivably bad decisions – not just thoughtless choices, but proactively unethical decisions. On a basic level, to place politics to one side and focus purely on process: she has breached the ministerial code and continuously lied about her actions. Because of this, it was appropriate for Patel to step down from her post as International Development Secretary on Wednesday. Much more importantly, while Theresa May’s letter attempts to imply that it’s not that deep, if Patel’s meetings had been followed to fruition they could have enabled funding the continued genocide of Palestinian people.
We can disagree with Patel’s politics, which disregard the humanity and equality of others, and still call out racism and sexism levelled at her
Let’s be frank: there is no doubt that Priti Patel deserves to be dragged. However, undermining her position due to her race and gender not only galvanises a narrative that has a ripple effect on other women MPs who will continue to face misogynoir, but such comments depoliticise Patel’s career path and decision-making. Patel is not a silly sneaky woman who “shouldn’t have got the job in the first place” – she is an established politician, who has amassed considerable power and agency, whose steps have been calculated and purposeful.
We can disagree with Patel’s politics, which disregard the humanity and equality of others, and still call out racism and sexism levelled at her. As a point of comparison: last week, whilst Patel’s meetings were rightly being condemned in the national press, Boris Johnson pretty much destroyed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s life. His flat-out incorrect remark that Zaghari-Ratcliffe –who was arrested while on holiday in Iran a year and a half ago on charges of spying – was in the country “training journalists”, has been taken by Iranian state TV as an “unintended confession of a real plot”. His stupidity and carelessness have almost certainly contributed towards the fresh charges that Zaghari-Ratcliffe now faces – and he hasn’t even had the decency to apologise for the role that he’s played.
Yet while this mess is being widely discussed in the public sphere, comment pieces questioning the fact that his position as an Eton and Oxford educated white man may have helped him along his journey into British politics have failed to emerge.
After graduating with a Classics-based degree from the University of Oxford, Johnson caught his big break in journalism in 1987 – at The Times – through family ties. Then, after getting sacked for making up a quote in an article, he managed to land a role at the Daily Telegraph – thanks to the fact that its editor was an old university chum. Johnson was then a political columnist for seven odd years – during which he was accused of racism and homophobia, and was found to be potentially complicit in a planned assault – before winning the seat of MP for Henley. The rest is (modern) history.
Priti Patel, meanwhile, grew up as a second-generation immigrant in Harrow, in North West London. She attended a non-selective grammar school and went on to study Economics at Keele University and a postgraduate degree in British Government and Politics at the University of Essex. Patel worked in Conservative Party press offices for a number of years after graduating, before joining a PR agency. While at the agency, she worked – reportedly quite happily, which speaks volumes – on the team that lobbied on behalf of British American Tobacco. From there, she moved into the corporate relations department of Diageo, and officially entered the political world as MP for Witham in 2010, after actively engaging with the Conservative Party again from 2005. Patel has clearly been working towards a life in politics since her time as a postgraduate student.
Remarks like these – “you’re only here because you’re brown” – shatter the confidence that a member of a minority group has in their own abilities
Comments like the ones that Blunt made this week plague people of colour, and women of colour in particular. As one of two Asian female undergraduates studying Economics in my year at my college in Cambridge, I can clearly remember the remarks and “jokes” – that I’d only been accepted so the college could tick a couple of diversity boxes. That the faculty had been forced to fill two out of the eight places available with girls after the year above had seen eight boys, and no girls, matriculate. Hell, I joked about it myself – I didn’t want people to think that I didn’t have a sense of humour. Plus, it was the easiest thing to do when others were pointing out how I was different, the quickest way to bring the conversation to a close.
Yet remarks like these – “you’re only here because you’re brown”, “hashtag diversity”, “you’ll definitely end up in the prospectus” – not only negate the accomplishments of minority groups, they shatter the confidence that a member of a minority group has in their own abilities. They feed imposter syndrome. The line between joking about being one of the token brown girls at university, and starting to believe there is a kernel of truth in your gallows humour becomes incredibly blurred. Despite my hard-earned successes, and the time and effort that I put into everything I do it is hard to ignore the message that I am only being given each opportunity as a gesture.
Comments and remarks like Blunts don’t just impact the individual. In dismissing the work that Patel has put into building her career (whether you agree or disagree with her frankly trash politics), Blunt isn’t only dismissing her “achievements” – he is dismissing those of all women in colour who are in power. He’s publicly dismissing people of colour, women, and those that “tick both boxes” working across all industries as mere beneficiaries of positive discrimination. There’s a clear, and very valid reason to drag Priti Patel but it’s incredibly telling that Blunt dodged her obvious failing, and decided to conjure his own.