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Editorial: Patel bullied junior staff - she must go

BORIS JOHNSON should sack Priti Patel. His reluctance to do so drives a bus through the ministerial code and renders him unfit for office.

As if this were not already a fact universally understood it is one of the few political questions where the working-class movement and the Establishment find common ground.

Coming on top of the theatrical disembowelling of his policy and media advisers last week, this latest debacle is yet another indication that his government is not only corruptly incompetent in the management of the Covid-19 crisis but that the Home Office has been entrusted to someone who believes bullying is the cutting edge of modern personnel management.

The Home Office is ministerial home of a large part of the coercive apparatus of the state. No-one  pretends that the routine implementation of its repressive functions are carried out with an extravagant regard for personal dignity. Patel rather celebrates this feature.

Windrush victims, refugees fleeing Nato bombs, migrants driven by global warming in search of a better life, the inmates of Britain’s vast penal archipelago, families kept apart by Britain’s racist immigration regime; all understand from intimate personal experience that the climate of fear and anxiety that they experience emanates not only from the nature of the system but from the policies of the people in command.

The practice of government at ministerial level is normally bound by rules of behaviour that insulate ministers and senior civil servants from the less agreeable conduct of business at the sharp end. A robust exchange of opinion between ministers and senior civil servants is not unusual and rarely disturbs the collegiate conduct of business for people who, if not actually members of the ruling class, are loyal servants of it.

The senior civil servant entrusted to investigate whether Patel breached the ministerial guidelines is, as is conventional in these elevated heights of the Civil Service, an establishment figure, even in the disrespectful parlance of the more junior ranks and among Civil Service union reps, a “posh boy.”

When he resigned as the government’s independent adviser on ministerial standards Sir Alex Allen (son of Baron Allan of Kilmahew, educated at Harrow, Cambridge and London) had a distinguished career as permanent secretary of the Department for Constitutional Affairs and chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

This is no fly-by-night “consultant” entrusted with government business on the model favoured by Bodger Boris but a man privy to the daily dealings of the Anglo-American intelligence alliance and bound into the ruling elite by birth and blooding.

That he did his job with exemplary independence of mind is confirmed by the fact that he resigned when the premier put support for his Cabinet ally above the formal obligations that attend high offices of state. In this regard he is a more reliable shield for the patrician conduct of government than Boris Johnson.

Patel’s Twitter storm of defenders, clumsily orchestrated by Conservative Central office, suggest that she is the victim of disloyal civil servants intent on subverting her agenda with a side order of racism, sexism and class prejudice.

This should not be dismissed out of hand. Institutional racism is so ingrained in the government machine at all levels that the most senior black Home Office employee in the team responsible for the Windrush compensation scheme descried the scheme as “systemically racist and unfit for purpose.” She resigned.

This is a distraction. If Patel bullied top civil servants they can give as good as they get and have the satisfaction of knowing that ministers come and go and they are the more permanent guardians of the status quo.

But Patel bullied junior staff. She must go.

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