“Grim”, “Thick” and “Naïve”: just three of the words that have been used to describe the former International Development Secretary Priti Patel, who was forced to resign this week after having unauthorized meetings with Israeli government officials during holidays to Israel in August and September.
For me, “opportunistic” and “hypocritical” are even more appropriate descriptions of the 45-year-old immigrant’s daughter who was the first Indian origin woman to become a British cabinet minister.
Patel represents the very worst of the unique kind of politics that dominates public discourse today – from the ‘Gau Rakshaks’ in India through the likes of Alternative for Germany and the UK Independence Party all the way to Trump’s White House.
It is the politics of opportunism, hypocrisy and divisiveness. It is the politics that is marked by attacks on social justice and equality, the demonization of the “other” and, of course, money.
But what sets Patel apart from fellow right-wingers such as Nigel Farage and Trump and his cronies is the fact that she is, very much in that great British tradition, subtle about it.
The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
It is speculated that Patel’s meetings in Israel were organized by the powerful Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) – one of the most influential lobby groups in Westminster.
CFI has over the years donated millions to the Conservative Party and has worked to shape a more sympathetic attitude towards Israel among British policy makers.
Blind support for Israel has long been favoured by British Conservatives but how is it possible that Patel – the daughter of an Indian migrant forced to flee Uganda in the face of Idi Amin’s unspeakable oppression pander to an Israeli state that perpetrates equally unspeakable oppression on innocent Palestinians?
Patel’s hypocrisy doesn’t end there.
Despite being one of a generation of children born to migrants who were given shelter and opportunity in Britain, she was part of the poisonous campaign to extricate Britain out of the European Union, a campaign that demonized the “migrant hordes” that would “invade” and “overwhelm” the UK.
During an interview with Patel during the Brexit campaign, I remember her referring to the false claim that nearly 80 million Turks would descend on London if the UK remained in the European Union.
That’s not to mention being part of a group – alongside the likes of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson – that perpetuated other fallacies about those NHS millions and “taking back control”.
If her hypocrisy is appalling, her opportunism is even more abhorrent.
I personally experienced it back in 2015 when she – egged on by the British Indian socialite and convicted fraudster Neishaa Gheraat – attempted to hijack Project 400, a campaign to mark four centuries of Indo-British relations, a project that had been the life work of the historian Dr Kusoom Vadgama.
Many – including many of Patel’s fellow Conservatives, and political commentators – believe that her very ambitious opportunism first revealed itself back in the 1990’s when she joined the short-lived Referendum Party, which was virulently anti-EU.
She unmistakably saw the shifting sands of British politics, despite – or perhaps because of – the emergence of centrist politicians such as Tony Blair and later David Cameron.
Quite apart from Israel, she latched on to other Conservative favourites, including the reinstatement of the death penalty, once stridently declaring her support for it as Middle England cheered and then later changing her mind as she sought the favour of Cameron and the centre right.
A classic YouTube clip of Private Eye editor Ian Hislop dismantling Patel’s argument for capital punishment makes for compelling watching.
Then there is of course her equally vociferous – and ill thought-out – opposition to British overseas aid, which accounts for a minuscule fraction of the UK’s budget and helps millions around the world, including of course in East Africa and India.
And yet, she didn’t bat an eyelid when offered the position of International Development Secretary – which oversees the foreign aid budget – by Theresa May nor did she make any effort to address any of the issues that she apparently had a problem with.
But then, a lack of meaningful action is nothing new to Patel.
As David Cameron’s “Indian Diaspora Champion”, she posed for plenty of pictures with Narendra Modi and rocked a few fabulous saris.
However, she gave little or nothing back to Britain’s most influential Diaspora community, for instance remaining utterly mute as the then Home Secretary Theresa May cracked down on Indian students and visitors from India as the Cameron government tried to meet its ambitious net migration targets.
Her opportunism and hypocrisy is not unusual in politics but in the case of the ambitious British Indian girl who wanted to emulate the onerous Margaret Thatcher and become PM, her ambition was far greater than her ability.