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Priti Patel Steals The Show. Sadly

Miranda Husain
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By parroting the far-right race rhetoric, Britain’s home secretary spotlights the Tory brown-washing of the Hostile Environment Policy, writes Miranda Husain  

The cat is out of the bag. Priti Patel single-handedly stole the show at last week’s Conservative Party Conference. To the beat of the Get-Brexit-Done disco club classic came her promise to end the free movement of people once and for all. Then, as an added bonus, the uncut edit, including the public advisory, “This daughter of immigrants needs no lectures from the North London metropolitan liberal elite.” And suddenly everyone was tubthumping.

To be sure, the home secretary is a woman at the top of her game. Not least because she is the second Asian and first woman of colour to ever hold the position; which may or may not suggest the death-knell of the multicultural dream more than the London bombings, thereby making her parroting of the race rhetoric typically associated with toxic white nationalism even more regrettable. That this is being done on the Tory card highlights an orchestrated brown-washing of the Hostile Environment Policy aimed at reducing immigration.

Patel’s willingness to play ball is, however, not dissimilar, say, to those British Asian comedians who carve a career out of ridiculing prevailing cultural differences between their parents — fresh off the boat and into the fire — and the ‘native population’. Such internalised white supremacy is tantamount to doing the bidding of the far-right as both trot out overtly racist tropes and stereotypes. While, in terms of feminist discourse, this provides a timely reminder that notions of white privilege should never be taken at face-value. More important is recognising the structural advantages that benefit a few over the majority. 

Sadly, even Labour’s David Lammy, who is of Guyanese origin, has proved himself not immune to these distractions, as evidenced by his repeated defence of a British identity based on being born in England. But to hierarchise the geography of birthplaces helps no one; least of all naturalised citizens or those belonging to the doomed Windrush generation. Crucially, demarcating the politics of belonging in this way ultimately plays into the hands of groups like the English Defence League (EDL); scoring the mother of all own-goals.

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That the home secretary cites Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman premier, as her inspiration does not bode well for the future. For that grocer’s daughter not only actively choked the working-class, she promoted just one woman to her cabinet during her 11-year tenure.

And now, Patel seems similarly intent on betraying her own roots. After all, her Ugandan-Indian parents who ran a chain of newsagents upon moving to London represent just the type of unskilled labour that Patel wants to keep out. The country’s other three Asian political success stories are the children of Pakistani bus drivers; two of them fellow Conservatives. Thus, there is something unpalatable about denying advantages to others that helped some get ahead. Ditto, about framing this as carrying out the democratic will of the people; which Patel did in Manchester.  

Of course, the greatest irony is that for all this talk of taking back control, borders have long applied only to the poor. Empire saw the rich crisscross the globe as they plundered and looted foreign lands. Today, global capitalism returns the favour by inviting multinationals to set up shop while overlooking the corporate tax bill, thereby robbing the national exchequer blind while denying the welfare state urgent funds. Thus, if Patel is serious about curbing free movement across national borders, this is a good place to start.

Elsewhere, scaremongering over immigration influxes ought to be recognised as outdated. Especially when new research finds that this boosts the economy in the long-term; with financial contributions typically outweighing additional costs to public services and the benefits system. Never mind that former Prime Minister Theresa May tried to quash this data time and again. Far better, then, for this Tory government to address its criminal record on the Windrush deportations. Compensation must be paid for this gross injustice and the policy itself halted. If nothing else, there is no economic sense in turfing out those who have spent a lifetime contributing to the circular flow of income. 

Yet none of this is of any import to a government that has its paws crossed for a general election before Britain leaves the EU; whether at the end of this month or next January. For nothing propels the citizenry towards the ballot-box quite like the flourish of the anti-immigration card that never goes out of style. This is something that Patel and her predecessor understand only too well.

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Thus, for the Conservatives, it is business as usual. Which is another way of saying that the Fat Cats are still among the pigeons that get knocked down but can’t get up again. All the while singing songs that remind everyone of the bad times. Disastrously.

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