Priti Patel was appointed home secretary only on Wednesday but already she is coming under attack from her critics for having once called for the return of the death penalty and for her business activities partly relating to India.
In the Commons on Thursday, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn picked on Priti when he addressed Boris Johnson making his debut at the despatch box as Prime Minister.
Corbyn said: “Given his appointment of the first home secretary for a generation to support the death penalty, can he assure the House now that his government have no plans to try to bring back capital punishment to this country?”
Boris did not answer the first time round but he did so after another Labour MP, Chris Leslie, asked: “The Prime Minister surely does not agree with the home secretary about the return of the death penalty, does he?”
Boris responded: “I have the fullest admiration for the home secretary’s policies on law. I do not support the death penalty, but what the people of this country want to see is proper sentencing for serious violent and sexual offenders — I am glad to see some nodding from those on the Labour Benches.”
Priti has changed her mind on capital punishment but in the Daily Mail on Thursday, columnist Andrew Pierce targeted her: “Hang ‘em and flog ‘em Priti Patel, a big fan of Margaret Thatcher and heroine of the Tory hard-Right, is our new law and order queen.”
He recalled: “Only a year after she became an MP in 2010, she caused uproar on BBC TV’s Question Time when she called for the return of the death penalty — abolished in 1965, seven years before she was born — even if it meant that innocent people were executed after false convictions.
“ ‘This is about our criminal justice system doing what it says on the tin,’ she cried. ‘Capital punishment would act as a deterrent.’ ” According to Pierce, “surveys of the Conservative Home website, the bible for Tory activists, now consistently places her in the four most popular ministers.
“But in November 2017 her political career seemed to fall apart when it emerged that, on a family holiday to Israel, she had met as many as 12 senior figures from the Israeli government including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
On Friday, it was the turn of the Left-leaning Guardian to carry a story questioning Priti’s business by its home affairs correspondent, Jamie Grierson. “The new home secretary, Priti Patel, holds a £1,000-an hour contract with a global communications firm that supplies products and services to the UK government, the Guardian can reveal,” the report began.
“Patel, who was appointed on Wednesday by the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, as a part of a wholesale gutting of the cabinet, has been working for Viasat for the past three months as a strategic adviser on a salary of £5,000 a month for five hours’ work a month.”
The reported admitted, however: “She recorded the role on the MPs’ register of interests, and the contract is due to expire on 31 July.”
The gist of the complaint was: “Viasat, a Californian company with a UK base in Farnborough, supplies services and products to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
“Patel, who was forced to resign from government two years ago for failing to disclose secret meetings with Israeli ministers, is understood to have been advising Viasat on a matter relating to India.”
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, told the Guardian: “Priti Patel has already been forced out of the cabinet once for dodgy meetings. You’d think she’d be more careful with her second chance.
“It is unacceptable for any cabinet minister to be a paid advisor for a company with government contracts… Patel must give up her role with Visasat immediately or leave the cabinet again.” The paper pointed out: “She also holds a role as director of Accloud, an accounting software firm, which targets firms in India. She receives a salary of £45,000 a year for 20 hours work a month in the role, which she also declared on the MPs’ register of interests.”
It is also the Daily Mail which revealed that Priti, 47, born in the UK of Gujarati parents who came from Uganda, is routinely subjected to racist online abuse.
It reported: “An online troll who sent new home secretary Priti Patel a stream of racist abuse on Facebook has been jailed. Doctor’s son Gerard Traynor, 53, was arrested in January after he called Mrs Patel a ‘dirty, Indian Ugandan, black P*** n****r’ in a post on her Facebook page.
“In another post on the politician’s page, Traynor said: ‘Send dirty P*ki back in Asian countries where they belong.’”
Traynor was jailed for 22 months after he admitted sending offensive messages between October and December 2018.
In a statement to police Priti said: “This incident has taken acceptable behaviour to serious criminality, the content was shocking and disgusting in its nature and the messages were racist, grossly offensive, hugely upsetting and caused me to feel intimidated.
'It had a huge impact on both my personal and professional life, I am a lot more wary of my surroundings when I am in public.”