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The real reason to fear Priti Patel and her bullying

In her desperation to deport 50 migrants, the Home Secretary attempted to pressure officials into breaking the law, reports DIANE ABBOTT MP

“MOVE fast and break things” is supposedly the mantra of Silicon Valley start-ups and new “disruptor” companies.

And it also seems to be the watchword of this Johnson-led Tory government and in particular, the top adviser, Dominic Cummings.

But, in their determination to “move fast,” anything that stands in the way is the enemy for these Tories. And this includes judges, hapless civil servants and the rule of law  

In the scandal of multiplying allegations of bullying that have been made against the current Home Secretary, and which led directly to the resignation of the most senior civil servant at the Home Office, there has been insufficient focus on the cause of the bullying.

Very few people engage in bullying for the sake of it, not even these Tories, or at least most of them. Typically, workplace bullying arises because the demands being made on people are unreasonable or impossible, or even illegal.

In February the government attempted to deport 50 people to Jamaica. This itself is an unacceptable practice, very few foreign nationals are targeted in this way, showing that the ‘hostile environment’ has never gone away and the Windrush scandal is ongoing.

But migrants’-rights campaigners successfully took the Home Office to court in February, and the Court of Appeal ruled that no-one who had not been legally represented and had not been able to appeal the deportation should be deported. In the event, despite rounding up people to fill the flight, the Home Office was able to deport just one-third of those targeted, seventeen people.

The Times newspaper reported allegations that the Home Secretary attempted to get officials to operate in breach of the Court ruling, to deport all 50 — that is to act illegally. It is easy to see why officials might resist such an order, and why a minister determined to get her way might resort to bullying.

This matters to all of us. The primary concern here is not even bullying in the workplace, although that should never be allowed. It is also not even the fate of those poor people who were wrongly snatched from their homes, the streets or their workplaces and narrowly avoided deportation, even though these terrible flights are continuing.

The most serious issue is the allegation of attempting to force government officials to breach the law. Because, ever since the Supreme Court ruling against the illegal proroguing of parliament, it has been clear that this government believes it is above the law, and can operate outside of it in pursuit of its reactionary political agenda.

This matters to us all because government by decree, without having to comply with the law, is the mark of autocrats everywhere. And this is a deeply reactionary would-be autocracy, which intends to attack our hard-won rights (and legal protections) across the piece.

The labour movement remains divided on the issue of Brexit. We are formally leaving the political structures of the EU, so to that extent Brexit is a done deal. But we can and must oppose the threats to all of us. The overwhelming majority of the labour movement is utterly opposed to this Tory Brexit. This because it will destroy jobs by taking us outside the customs unions and will take an axe to workers’ rights in a race to the bottom with working conditions in Trump’s America, as well as by removing environmental protections and food standards.

Since Ronald Reagan busted the US air-traffic controllers’ union in 1981, union membership in the US has halved to little over ten per cent of the workforce. There is no federally mandated entitlement to sick-pay or maternity-pay. If Johnson does a deal with Trump, expect British businesses to lead the charge to lower rights, claiming that they will not be able to compete with their US rivals without a ‘level playing field’.

This is the importance of the Tory refusal to do a deal with the EU, because Brussels insists on what it calls a ‘level playing field’. It is a complete red herring to suggest that this is about product standards. Every producer, everywhere in the world has to comply with EU product standards if it wants to sell into the EU. The same applies to US standards in the US, and so on.

The real Tory objection is to social protections written into the European treaties which offer much higher workers’ protections. This is not because the various right-wing governments would not prefer to lower those rights and standards. Their problem is that European trade unions are in general far stronger than those in the US and, as the gilets jaunes show in France, much more militant. As Brussels cannot force lower standards, they enforce minimum standards to prevent competition through greater exploitation. It is precisely greater exploitation that will follow if Johnson has no deal with the EU and does a deal with Trump instead.

This brings us back to the age-old tactic of divide and rule. Increased deportations, breaking up refugee families, ignoring court rulings, demonising black youth, vilifying entire Muslim communities all have the effect of sowing even greater divisions.

These policies are despicable in themselves. But they are also paving the way for the attacks to come. Righteous anger against austerity, government incompetence and the effects of no deal, should all be directed against the government, not against women in burkas, or black teenagers.

So the real thing we should all fear is not Priti Patel’s alleged bullying, but the political project behind it. This government fancies itself as insurgent. It even claims, ridiculously, to be anti-establishment. But, in their hurry to establish a change in government political culture, one of the things these Tories seem willing to do is break is the law.


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