“Sstandards in public life ”has become such an absurd phrase in the Boris Johnson government that the prime minister’s standards advisor resigned this morning. Sir Alex Allan informed the Prime Minister that Priti Patel’s behavior had violated the ministerial code. Then the prime minister informed the country that the ministerial code had not been violated. Sir Alex has since left; I’m sure the much-vaunted “reboot” of the government wishes the best.
Meanwhile, calls for tougher sentences are mounting, after a repeat offender was fired with a warning despite being convicted of another serious offense. The case will add to the feeling that the UK is a “soft touch” country where repeat offenders are not simply allowed, but are effectively encouraged. In a move likely to cause outrage, do-gooders further insisted that a crime that is possibly “unintentional” means it doesn’t count. The implications of that comment for the overall justice system are “catastrophic and outrageous,” says whichever conservative candidate answers the phone first.
The above is possibly a way of framing the Secretary of the Interior’s latest violation of the ministerial code, given that Priti Patel is the market leader in That Kind of Talk, if it’s about anyone else. “I think it’s about us taking personal responsibility,” Patel explained in the summer, asking what he would do if he saw his neighbors break the rule of six. “If I saw something that I thought was inappropriate, then, frankly, I would call the police.”
While Priti Patel would give you away for having seven people in your backyard, we know that he would not call the police if he saw that his neighbors violated international law; in fact, I would vote for it in the House of Commons. She would not call the police if she saw someone making statements directed at attorneys in a way that might inspire acts of violence, because that would mean exposing herself. And she certainly would not “take personal responsibility” for behavior for which she was personally responsible. Why bother? It is certainly not a requirement of your boss, who does not even take personal responsibility for an unknown number of his own children.
Anyway, it’s national anti-bullying weekSo here’s a quick rundown on how the Home Secretary is leading the way. A Cabinet Office report on multiple allegations of bullying against Priti Patel has found compelling evidence of this. Apparently, this violation of the ministerial code “may not have been intentional.” Try using that excuse to break any of the other rules that Patel demands full adherence to, and see how it goes.
Despite the fact that she supposedly cannot see aggressive behavior in herself, Patel is adept at falsely accusing others of it. When the chairwoman of the home affairs selection committee, Yvette Cooper, wrote repeatedly to ask if he would submit to the scrutiny, Patel replied she was “disappointed by the increasingly adversarial tone of our exchanges.” Meanwhile, one of Patel’s senior officials was reportedly so disappointed by the increasingly antagonistic tone of his interactions with the Home Secretary that he went on to say: collapse after one of them.
When he took office last year, Boris Johnson rewrote the foreword to the ministerial code, and the beginning of its fourth paragraph clearly states: “There must be no intimidation and no harassment. And yet, after an arcane and ridiculously inscrutable investigation into Patel’s time in three departments, it turns out that he did. As a former permanent secretary of the Treasury Nick macpherson He glossed the event: “In my experience, things have to be very bad for a Cabinet Office investigation to find fault with a minister; the system is rigged to conclude otherwise.”
But it turns out: so what? Priti Patel is, in many ways, the perfect politician for an age when “taking responsibility” means just the opposite. It is a great mantra of the right that individuals must take responsibility for their lives, but this is a government of people who flatly refuse to do so. Even in this specific case, Johnson is said to have delayed reading the full report for months because he didn’t want to have to deal with it. You don’t even want to take responsibility to take responsibility.
Everyone else in this country knows that if their employer formally determined that they have bullied people in the workplace, they would be out of work. However, the secretary of the interior, the secretary of the interior! – you will not meet this standard job destination. He gets a vote of confidence from the prime minister. Downing Street clearly decided it would be worth eating shit for a couple of days rather than looking “weak” by firing Patel, and imagined that the story would die out fast enough for them to “get away with it.”
But they haven’t. Every case like this destroys the remaining vestiges of respect that people have for politicians. Every instance of someone, simply because they are a politician, gets away with behavior that people know would not be tolerated in their own workplace erodes something much greater than trust in the individual politician.
What is the plan to recover some of this? This is the era of Trumpism and Zuckerbergism, where moral codes already worn out in public life are judged far less profitable than hyperpartisan loyalties. What we see now with Patel is a corrosive extension of what we saw with John Bercow, where many seemed to overlook multiple accusations of intimidation against the then president because they thought he was on their side on Brexit. However, there is nothing remotely heroic about Bercow or Patel’s alleged conduct towards their alleged subordinates.
It is notable that ordinary, irrelevant people will be embarrassed by many every day on social media, and these people often lose their jobs for relatively minor transgressions. Yet despite this, or perhaps under the convenient cover of it, politicians are far more impervious to shame than ever. It seems like you can’t cancel a minister, and they hardly ever resign anymore. Public political life has strayed so far from the earthly sphere that ministers no longer need to fear the same consequences as the people for whom they are elected. Or, put another way: shame is for little people.
• Marina Hyde is a columnist for The Guardian
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.