On a personal level it is always sad to see a political resignation. I’ve known Priti Patel for the best part of twenty years and she’s one of those people who by nature is an optimist. She always has a twinkle in her eye and is very good company. However, I’ve always thought that being a minister robbed her of her natural bubbliness. Whenever I interviewed her I could almost hear her thinking to herself: “I must stay on message, I must stay on message”. Back in September 2015 I wrote this:
“I really think some politicians are injected with some sort of serum before they go on the broadcast media, and that it turns normally sparkling, interesting people into complete drones whose only intention is to bore us to death about the “long-term economic plan” and “hard-working people”.
Step forward Priti Patel who is an exceptionally rabid addict of this serum. I’ve interviewed her seven or eight times, I suppose, and on each occasion I end the interview wanting to slit my wrists. If I feel like that, God only knows what the listener thinks.
And so it was on Saturday. She and Michael Fallon were doing the media rounds to comment on Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership contest, and both had clearly taken a strong dose. “Britain’s security is in danger,” they chirruped in unison. “So is the security of hard working families.”
Oh, pass the sick bucket.”
It’s ironic, I suppose that both Priti and Michael Fallon have now gone to meet their political maker. Ironic, but a terrible pity, and so avoidable. What on earth was she thinking? Any rookie Minister reads the Ministerial Code and knows that they have to obey it. Priti’s transgressions might have been survivable had she not told the PM on Monday that there were no further revelations to come. There were, and that meant she had to go.
Theresa May showed a bit of human compassion and allowed Priti to resign, but let’s face it, it was a sacking. I am told that the meeting in Downing Street lasted all of six minutes. The PM has never been one for small talk. It was an interview without coffee. Both women knew what the outcome must be.
While today Priti Patel’s political career lies in tatters, she should take comfort from the fact that it is possible to come back from this. She’ll never again be seen as a leadership contender, but it is perfectly possible for her to return to the front bench in the future. Liam Fox’s resignation in 2012 was in vaguely – very vaguely – similar circumstances and Priti can look at his example to see how to return to ministerial office.
In the meantime, I expect Priti to enter a period of relative silence until after Christmas, but after then I hope we see the return of the bubbly, effervescent character that ministerial office somewhat suppressed. If we do, she will be a player again.
So where does this leave Theresa May and he government? I don’t see that she or it are any weaker than they were a week or ten days ago. Indeed, it is possible to argue that she is in a slightly stronger position given Boris Johnson’s bad week. There is no plot to get rid of her, mainly because there is no obvious successor. Boris has had a dreadful few months and many people I speak to doubt he’d even get into the final two if there were any leadership contest. The big unknown, though, is how many letters Graham Brady has received calling for a vote of no-confidence in the PM. There needs to be 48 to trigger a vote. I suspect he has got 20-30. However, I doubt if there will be many more, despite some of the disgraceful anonymous briefing that is going on in the papers. Turkeys surely don’t vote for Christmas. Tory MPs need to know what if they continue to show this kind of disloyalty to the Prime Minister they can only help bring a general election closer. And if that happened, many of them would end up with a P45 courtesy of the electorate. And deservedly so.
Given the antics of Messrs Patel and Johnson, the sexual harassment scandal has moved to the inside pages from the front pages, unless you live in Wales where former Welsh government minister Carl Sargeant took his own life. The poor man hadn’t even been told what he had been accused of. I’m told Charlie Elphicke still remains ignorant of what is supposed to have done. On a basic human level, surely if someone is accused of committing a crime, or something highly distasteful, they surely ought to have a right to know what it is, even if the identity of the accuser isn’t disclosed. In Carl Sargeant’s case, his family have been robbed of a husband, son and father. They deserve some answers from the political establishment in Wales, and the First Minister Carwyn Jones – a transparently decent man – needs to examine his own conscience about how he handled this and what he said to the media in the immediate aftermath of Sargeant’s suspension.
If you like to listen to political podcasts I do hope you’ll give mine a try. It’s called FOR THE MANY and I’m doing it with former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and the first episode will be available first thing on Monday morning. We’re going to cover political and media issues and have a good old gossip along the way. It will have the tone of our Sky News paper review partnership and will be recorded weekly on a Sunday evening. So do go to iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts and subscribe, so you automatically get it on your phone without having to remember to download! FOR THE MANY has a Facebook page and you can follow us on Twitter @ForTheManyPod.