WITH Sue Gray’s report a dud and the outcome of the Met Police investigation still distant, Boris Johnson seems to have survived Partygate – but it won’t be the last challenge to his premiership.
Whether it takes a month, a year or longer, eventually, he will have to go. When that happens, it should be home secretary Priti Patel who replaces him. Boris Johnson used to call himself a libertarian – now, he stands for nothing. His leadership undermines the future prospects of the Conservative Party. Priti Patel, on the other hand, has principles. She is a true-blue Conservative. If the Tory party is to have any hope of clinging onto the Red Wall and its thumping majority, it needs an inspiring leader with Thatcherite steel who can be trusted to stick to what they believe in. Patel is that leader.
After so many years in government, she has inevitably been on the receiving end of slur and slander. As the Conservative leadership contest edges closer – and Patel’s star begins to rise – her critics will undoubtedly dredge up old skeletons to try to discredit her.
None of them hold water. Theresa May sacked her from Cabinet for the grand crime of meeting with Israeli politicians and conspiring to give international aid money to hospitals treating Syrian refugees. Not many sacked ministers can say they were “overwhelmed with support from constituents and colleagues across the political divide” after having been unceremoniously booted out of government.
Quite rightly, Patel rebounded to the top of government before long as home secretary, where she was soon greeted by accusations of workplace bullying. The prime minister took her side and when the FDA, the civil servants’ trade union, dragged the matter to the High Court, Lord Justice Lewis confirmed once again that the home secretary was, indeed, in the clear.
Perhaps Patel’s critics’ favourite stick to bash her with is the migrant crisis, which is entirely the fault of the French. President Macron has an election coming up, so he has reached for the oldest trick in the book – picking a fight with the British.
Macron’s government has remained obstinate in the face of reasonable proposed solutions from the Home Office such as joint British-French patrols in the Channel, leading to more far-fetched ideas like a wave machine to push migrant dinghies back onto French shores, in a desperate attempt to find some unilateral answer to the problem.
Patel finds herself in an impossible position on this issue. She is charged with finding a way to keep people in France without the cooperation of the French. They consistently fail to intercept people traffickers setting migrants up for the perilous – and sometimes tragic – journey across the world’s busiest shipping lane.
French excuses for that failure include “Kamala Harris was in town” and “it was a bank holiday”. They tell us, straight-faced, that there is nothing more they could possibly do to intercept the thousands upon thousands of people smugglers operating on their shores. To lay the blame at the home secretary’s feet is absurd. She has composed herself with dignity and decorum throughout the crisis, unlike her French counterparts.
Priti Patel’s alleged flaws and failures, then, are no such thing. Still, she barely gets a look-in when the media discusses possible successors to Boris Johnson, with chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss dominating those conversations. But both suffer from fundamental, irreconcilable issues. Their popularity is fleeting.
Liz Truss appeals to the libertarian wing of the Conservative Party. I count myself as part of that wing, but I am also the kind of Tory who wants to win elections. Keeping the Red Wall will require ruthless pragmatism.
We need a leader who can talk with unquestionable authority about national identity, law and order, immigration and Brexit. The progressive, Remain-voting foreign secretary is not the answer.
Rishi Sunak has been in Cabinet for five minutes. Compared to both Truss and Patel, his lack of ministerial experience is stark – and it shows in his approval ratings, too. As the Covid chancellor, his job has been dishing out government checks left, right and centre. At one point, he even subsidised eating out – complete with his own personal branding, no less.
He ought to be polling through the roof. He isn’t. Clearly, he is no election winner either.
Sunak also suffers from ‘Treasury brain’. He apparently subscribes to the belief that we must raise taxes to tackle national debt. Whether he ends up as chancellor or prime minister, he seems set on post-Covid austerity, repeating all the mistakes George Osborne made a decade ago.
He is not the politician to lead Britain out of the pandemic and into a glorious age of post-Brexit Global Britain.
Perhaps a decade or so down the line, Truss or Sunak could be the prime minister we need. Right now, though, only Priti Patel is ready to step into the fold. She has no other serious rivals.
The usual suspects – Gove, Raab, Javid and so on – are tried and tested (and failed) leadership contenders with no inspiring vision and nothing new to offer. None came close to winning the Tory grassroots’ support in 2019 and none will be serious contenders in the post-Boris contest either.
The party and the country badly need a strong leader with heaps of ministerial experience, an immovable belief in liberty and conservatism, solid Brexit credentials and the ability to keep winning the hearts of the Red Wall. Priti Patel is by far and away the best choice. No one else comes close.