If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly in the hope of a different outcome, then Sir Alistair Graham is the maddest man in Britain.
For it is he who has demanded that Boris Johnson sack Priti Patel for having an undeclared meeting with a party donor in a clear breach of the rules.
Sir Alistair is the same man who last November called for Boris Johnson to sack Priti Patel over bullying allegations, and who in March said the government had “shown a scandalous neglect of maintaining high standards in public life”.
So you’d think that, by now, this former ethics commissioner would have figured out what the rest of the country has: that the PM has a really good reason for wanting an utterly dislikable, corrupt, amoral, husk of a human being in his Cabinet.
A man who promoted Dominic Cummings after he blindly blundered around Barnard Castle, refused to boot Matt Hancock for getting handsy, and wilfully keeps Gavin Williamson in gainful employment when schoolchildren are clamouring for his head, is not about to penalise a workplace bully for breaking the rules.
But considering Patel’s back catalogue, she didn’t break them at all.
She strung them up, skinned them, dismembered them, buried them at midnight at the crossroads and then urinated on the mouldering corpse of the Ministerial Code, which Johnson wrote and she signed and then they both ignored.
This is someone who was last held properly to account by Theresa May, and who in return for blind loyalty about Brexit has been allowed to hold a meeting with a Tory donor, a Tory MP, a corporate affairs director and an airport chief executive, in which they discussed passenger tracing, airport laws, and travel traffic lights, and get away with insisting it was just a lunch with mates.
Note to Priti: that’s not what friends talk about.
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Patel did not declare the meeting, nor did she take along a government civil servant to take notes. She has no excuse, either, because she got sacked last time she held a meeting off the books like this, so the only possible explanation for doing it a second time is that either she’s as mad as Sir Alistair Graham, or she knows her current boss won’t care as much as the last one did.
It was also revealed this weekend that her department had spent £35,200 on a crisis management firm, which ran public relations “debriefing” exercises for the Home Office in March and November last year. It has refused to reveal which crises these were about.
And for what reason, when taking over an organisation, would any leader keep on staff who dragged the last one into disrepute? It can only be because disrepute is exactly what you want.
So let’s consider all the possible reasons why Priti Patel won’t be packing her work mug any time soon.
Fleet Street Fox
1. She is Lord Voldemort’s last horcrux and the PM doesn’t want to upset him
2. She needs to be as beloved as Ann Widdecombe was before she can reinvent herself as a lovable buffoon on Strictly Come Dancing
3. She makes Boris Johnson look good
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When the PM is accused of racism, his spokesman can point to a woman of colour in the Cabinet. If he fires the only woman of colour he’s got, he’ll have to promote another from a pool of Tory talent in which they are not just rare but critically-endangered.
When the PM needs to blow a dog-whistle about immigration he can wheel out ‘The Prittster’ to say something unfathomably stupid and unworkable, like putting nets in the Channel or using jetskis or ramming migrant boats, and delight his base.
He is at zero risk of a leadership challenge, or indeed any intellectual or moral challenge, from someone whose job would otherwise mean she was a threat to his power.
When he is hated for reimposing some of the Covid restrictions he said we’d never see again, she’ll come out and say something pleasingly libertarian about something else. When he is reviled for policies which have caused deaths, she will suggest a new one that would guarantee more of them are migrant deaths. When his support plunges, he’ll stand next to Priti Vacant and look like an intellectual and ethical Titan by comparison.
If he stood next to someone decent and honest, he’d look like the man he is.
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That’s not to say she’s not a horcrux. It’s entirely possible, from a dispassionate view of the evidence, that she was formed by dark magic to store a piece of a wizard’s dysfunctional soul.
But whether it’s that, or Strictly ambitions, or a lifelong record of surrounding himself with people who protect him from criticism, Boris Johnson should sack Priti Patel. And if she had an ounce of self-respect, she’d resign rather than serve as his crap-magnet.
He should sack her if she’s aiming to be the new Widdy; sack her if she serves no purpose beyond soaking up all the disapproval; and sack her if she’s the repository of evil.
The fact he hasn’t, he isn’t, and he won’t, says more about him than it does her.