No Wonder Priti Patel Is a Bully, She’s Just Practicing Her Politics

by Harriet Williamson

10 March 2020

Last week, it emerged that home secretary Priti Patel had been accused of bullying staff in yet another government department. To date, three separate and very serious allegations of bullying behaviour have been made against her. 

The latest claims see Patel accused of publicly humiliating civil servants, creating a general sense that “everyone is hopeless” and using bullying and pressurising tactics in emails. 

The allegations have been brought to a senior official at the Department for International Development. 

They follow news that an official in the Department for Work and Pensions received a £25,000 payout after alleging she was bullied by Patel during her stint as employment minister. 

The new allegations are similar in nature to those levelled against Patel by senior civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam, who resigned as Home Office permanent secretary on 29 February. Rutnam alleged that Patel treated staff in an unacceptable manner, with her behaviour including “swearing, belittling people [and] making unreasonable and repeated demands”.

Despite the mounting accusations, prime minister Boris Johnson has remained steadfast in his support of Patel, praising her as an “outstanding” home secretary, who is committed to “delivering change”. 

The Cabinet Office is currently investigating several of the allegations made against Patel. However, the Labour party are calling for an independent inquiry, arguing that the current investigations are not impartial enough to restore public trust. 

At this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded to know if Johnson was aware of the allegations made against Patel before he appointed her as home secretary – one of the most powerful positions in the country. If Johnson did know, he clearly didn’t care. 

The prime minister’s cavalier response should come as no surprise to anyone who has been penalised and disenfranchised by this Conservative government over the past 10 years. The Tory’s brutal austerity programme has systematically devastated the lives of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people. 

In this, of course, Patel has been complicit – just look at her voting record. 

The home secretary has consistently voted against laws to promote equality and human rights. She was in favour of removing the Commission of Equality and Human Rights’ duty to support the development of a society in which a person’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination.

She voted in favour of the hated Bedroom Tax, against raising welfare benefits in line with prices and inflation and an impressive fifty times in favour of reducing spending on benefits. 

Of course, basic rights and protections for the less fortunate are not in someone like Patel’s interests. That she has been accused of bullying and abusing her staff comes as little surprise given her ideological stance.

A die-hard neoliberal, Patel is committed to enforcing a politics of cruelty that blames the poor and sick for their predicament– cracking down on welfare ‘cheats’, immigrants and the homeless becomes a form of public satisfaction – while depending on the great god of ‘market forces’ to dictate the economy and shape our lives.

It speaks volumes that Patel defended anti-terror police after the much-criticised decision to add the activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) to a list of extremist groups. XR and their ilk use protest to disrupt the flow of capital, threatening the smooth running of business – which neoliberalism prizes above all else. 

The fact that Patel supports the suppression and intimidation of a legitimate, non-violent protest group only serves to further illustrate how Tory politics and interpersonal relations are inextricably linked. 

The shadow of secret meetings in Israel and serious allegations of bullying don’t matter to Johnson’s administration. On Wednesday, The Mirror reported that Tory HQ had “ignored” reports of Patel’s bullying behaviour. We shouldn’t be shocked. They are all bullies, in ideology and behaviour – of course they are defending one of their own. 

Harriet Williamson is a freelance journalist and mental health activist. 

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