By Nadia Babar
Priti Patel wants to have her cake and eat it too.
Corruption and scandal from the UK government is nothing new. Those of us above the approximate age of 35 will remember it well from the pre-Tony Blair days as well. Despite Tony Blair being pretty conservative for a Labour party guy, he was hailed as a breath of fresh air after a period rife with smoke and mirrors, controversy, and acrid political corruption.
Now, post-Brexit, mid-pandemic, the ghosts of the old Tory values of the eighties are afoot once again. It’s merely the faces that have changed.
Priti Patel is one of them.
Patel’s latest faux pas was her blatant display of hypocrisy in the wake of the Euro 2020 Finals. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll remember that England lost to Italy on penalties after a spirited, entertaining match and overall season, with arguably England’s strongest football performance in decades. The English national team won the hearts of the entire country and then some, and the heartbreak of losing on the last penalty was cushioned by the sense of national pride in the young, talented team.
Back in the beginning of the Euro tournament, several of England team’s players decided to kneel in protest of global racism, an act we’ve seen take place all over the world, in all kinds of sports, by all kinds of athletes, for a couple years now. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Mind you, the players taking the knee during the Euros (which included several teams, not just England), didn’t kneel while any national anthems were playing, as other athletes have done in different sports. They simply kneeled for a brief moment before the start of the match. The move shouldn’t be controversial, nor should it have been surprising.
Patel wasted no time in condemning the players who took a knee. She told GB News that “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture politics.” She was later asked if England fans reserved the right to boo players as they took the knee. Patel did not say no: “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.” It’s important to note that even Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who isn’t known for his anti-racism, said that the players should be allowed to “condemn racism in this country in any way that they choose.”
It’s important to note at this point that Patel is no stranger to racism – I have no doubt that her claims of being racially abused as a young person in Britain are truthful. And my criticism of her is not meant to be dismissive of her experience with racism at all. But it makes her response to acts of anti-racism all the more shocking with the knowledge that she has firsthand experience with racism herself.
Back to present day. In the last few minutes of the Euro Final, the England national team was set to take their penalties. Three of those penalties missed – those of Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho. All three of them are men of colour, and all three of them have extremely impressive football records, especially the 19-year-old Saka, who won the hearts of thousands of Brits this summer due to his stellar performance throughout the tournament.
However, in the aftermath of the match, several “fans” began violent racial attacks against the aforenamed three men. One minute, they were diehard England fanatics, screaming their support, until they didn’t receive the outcome they wanted. They then turned to social media to spout racial abuse against Rashford, Saka, and Sancho.
The sane remainder of the country responded accordingly, flooding the three players’ social media with messages of love and support to counteract the negativity. It was heartwarming to see how so many people rushed to defend these players against the racial attacks.
Patel took to the stage as well. She expressed her ‘disgust’ at the abuse directed at the football players. But people were quick to call out her hypocrisy. Most notably came Tyrone Mings, Aston Villa player, who said “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘gesture politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against happens.”
It couldn’t have been said better. Patel is a caricature of modern politics, guilty of the very thing she accused others of doing: gesture politics. Her statement condemning racism had no weight behind it, and made her look all the more foolish considering her previous remarks.
It doesn’t stop there.
Despite being the child of immigrants herself, Patel’s latest piece of work is a harsh anti-immigration policy that criminalizes asylum seekers. Her plan states that only ‘the brightest and the best’ will be allowed into the UK. What does this mean? Any immigrant who doesn’t earn a salary of over £25,000 will be deemed ‘unskilled’ and unfit to gain legal residency in the UK.
My first job in the UK amounted to the equivalent of £20,000. My friend’s first job – as an accountant for a bank, mind you – gave him a starting salary of £21,000. How is it reasonable for every immigrant, asylum seeker, expat – whatever term you prefer – to land a job in the UK on £25,000 right off the bat? It’s a ridiculous amount. Patel fails to notice that many ‘unskilled’ labor-intensive jobs – rubbish collectors, cleaners, gardeners, etc., jobs that make up the backbone of our economy – are just as valuable as £80,000 per year jobs. Many immigrants take such low-paying jobs as a means of surviving while they assimilate into the UK and learn English if they haven’t already. To dismiss this valuable sector of our economy as ‘unskilled’ and anything but ‘the best and the brightest’ is vile.
Her questionable policies do not end here. She vows to crack down on crime while cutting police budgets across the country. In Essex, – her constituency, no less! – Patel backed the closure of a major police station, which is now being turned into offices. The lack of crime-respondent staff seemingly correlated with a 60% increase in violent crime in the area.
The list goes on. Whatever your political views may be (and at this point I’d like to point out that this isn’t necessarily a scathing criticism of the Conservative party or Conservative values) the sheer hypocrisy from our Home Secretary – one of the most powerful seats in the UK – is undeniable.
Now, as we stand on the cusp of a huge decision regarding the lives of thousands of Afghan refugees, I am scared. I am scared that Patel will, without a second thought, refuse Afghan asylum seekers, those who are seeking the most basic shelter and safety. I am afraid she will brand them ‘illegal’ – how fleeing to another country for your own life and those of your children can be considered ‘illegal’ is beyond me. I am afraid that her hypocrisy will continue, and she will refuse to offer sanctuary to Afghan refugees in the same country that once offered her parents sanctuary, back in the 1960s.