The home secretary’s speech at the Conservative party conference was a masterclass in racial gatekeeping, performing the good immigrant for a toxic, racist government
Home secretary Priti Patel’s speech at the Conservative party conference made me nervous, even afraid to an extent. Her smug grin, haughty demeanour, the head nods, incensed finger-pointing, stolen laughs. These behaviours gave her speech a sinister element, a performance that somehow felt more jarring than the other examples of nauseating, tumultuous politics we’ve seen as of late.
Maybe, it’s because I’m used to a different kind of face (see: Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins) spouting phrases like “taking back control” and “end free movement of people once and for all”. I feel most disappointed not because we have different politics, but because I believe that she understands the power she wields in her position and is still using it to hurt people. Patel, born to immigrant parents who owned a newsagents, is creating policies that target those whom she identifies with as an immigrant, despite understanding that she herself isn’t somehow better than those born outside of British borders, but that the privilege she wields comes from a British Empire that ransacked and colonised so many countries where reparations will never truly be enough.
It is a dwindling British Empire that continues to employ agents like her, to adopt an “exceptional immigrant” and self-hatred narrative towards their communities and against people like themselves. In her speech, she introduced the idea of an Australian-like points system that would have penalised her own parents, pulling the ladder up behind her. I believe that Patel very much understands the impact of her policies and rhetoric, that she willingly chooses to ignore the lack of humanity, compassion or even hypocrisy within them.
Patel’s speech was like a good immigrant checklist – she talked about giving the police more stop and search power (something that disproportionately affects young black men), and pushed for policies that will decimate the lives of immigrant families, disavowing freedom of movement and “open borders”, before going onto giggle as she praised her role model Margaret Thatcher for her applauding audience.
Her language around immigrants was calculated, reiterating stereotypes and rhetoric of a very specific, insidious kind of white British racism– one found to champion a Britain where only good immigrants with money and the accepted form of intellect are worthy.
She said a new system would bring in the “brightest and best… brilliant scientists, the finest academics and leading people in their field.” Patel is the daughter of newsagents owners; fellow Conservative Sajid Javid is the son of a bus driver; people who would have never been allowed into Britain under Patel’s agenda. Patel’s entire speech degraded generations of people on whose backs this country has been built on, positioning them as burdensome to this blazing refurbished British Empire Tory government, hell bent on their shambolic Brexit agenda. She aligned the importance of her role to that of the PMs, positioning herself as a servant to the people, as if she didn’t just alienate entire swathes of communities of immigrants contributing to the UK. From academics to NHS staff, doctors to bus drivers and corner shop owners working in the UK – people invisible in those moments, their contributions made moot.
Patel proudly states she is the “daughter of immigrants, (she) needs no lectures from the north London, metropolitan liberal elite”. There is a deep-rooted hypocrisy in how she has disassociated herself from her entire identity, as she seeks acceptance from a racist and islamophobic, elitist party filled with self-serving Etonians who will never consider her an equal, despite her misaligned loyalty to party before country. Patel, like so many, will never be allowed a seat at the table, though she remains happy to adopt all the policies that hurt people like her. Prime minister Boris Johnson, a man that she adores, has acted unlawfully, lied, cheated, and screwed so many people over in recent weeks – but unlike this country’s immigrants, the Tories need not be afraid of the law, of the police and their tasers, or the generation-ruining policies Patel has in store.