The interior minister
Priti Patel makes the police case in parliament
We can now go live to Downing Street, where thanks to ITV News we finally get to see the results of the £2.6 million spent creating what we’re obliged to describe as a “White House-style” TV briefing room. Anyone who has visited the White House would assume this meant “cramped and underground”, but it turns out to mean “like a scene from a disaster movie set in Britain, written by someone who had never been there”.
There had been fears that Boris Johnson was blowing all this cash in an effort to make his government look slick and sophisticated. Readers will be reassured to learn that this is not the case. It will continue to look strange and slapdash, and surrounded by flags. Doubtless there are political strategists who will explain that people love flags in the “Red Wall” seats that gave Johnson his majority. So flags it is.
There is a lectern with “DOWNING STREET” printed on it, although the last-minute decision to add a crest in the centre means that it actually reads “DOW REET”. Future generations will assume this was the name of the prime minister.
Half the room is an aggressive Tory blue, and half of it is the wood panelling that was there before. Perhaps the idea is “modern values in a traditional setting”, but it looks like the result of one of those arguments that used to so enliven “Changing Rooms”. Probably if they put out more flags, it will solve the problem.
Over in Parliament, Priti Patel was discussing events in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder. She had to walk a tricky line, reluctant to criticise the police who seemed to have been heavy-handed at Saturday night’s vigil, but also wary of defending them.
It was unfortunate timing that Monday was also the day the Home Secretary was bringing her Crime Bill to Parliament. This was supposed to be straightforward Tory red meat, cracking down on hippie environmentalists and lefty statue-drowners (Red Wall voters love statues, I expect). After Saturday night’s events, the whole thing felt a little misjudged. As Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds put it, “the government’s message is that they want to lock up for 10 years people who damage the statues of slave traders, when rape sentences start at half of that.”
Patel had little to say in response, except that she didn’t like Labour’s “tone”. Of course, if she gets her way, the police will be able to lock people up for that.
The Home Secretary decided to plough on down the road she’d set out on. The bill was, she said, “a stark reminder as to which party is backing the police and which party is not.” On another day, that might have seemed a good political place to be, but Monday was a strange day to be the party of the cops against protestors.
Outside, there were half a dozen police guarding the statue of Winston Churchill, a symbolic gesture that will have been a great comfort to statues anxious about their commute home in the dark.
Inside the Commons most Tories stuck with the Home Secretary, but there were exceptions. Charles Walker was, as ever, indignant, pointing out that the laws the cops had apparently ham-fistedly enforced had been passed by Parliament: “This House criminalised the freedom of protest,” he said. “It was us.”
Theresa May, too, was guarded in her support. In her time as Home Secretary, May took on the police, demanding they reform. She is unlikely to have been impressed with Patel’s quoting the police union leader’s support for the bill.
“I worry that there could be unintended consequences,” May said. It’s a subject on which she speaks with authority. “Unintended Consequences” would be a good title for a history of her time as prime minister.
Elsewhere in Parliament, Covid Hardman Steve Baker was attacking the idea of vaccine passports. “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!” he declared. “My life is my own.” He was quoting, he reassured any anxious colleagues, from the Sixties surrealist drama The Prisoner. Frankly, the idea that we’re all part of a giant government scheme to inflict psychological torture on Baker is about as plausible an explanation of the last 12 months as anything else.
The Prisoner was filmed in Portmeirion, the Welsh village that memorably combines architectural styles. The effect is charming, if you like that kind of thing, but doubtless a Downing Street designer could improve it by adding more flags. Voters love flags.
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