Voices: Priti Patel was smirking double hard as she tried to style out the government’s most recent outrage

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Voices: Priti Patel was smirking double hard as she tried to style out the government’s most recent outrage
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Priti Patel spent exactly two hours in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon and, by my estimation, her face was set in her trademark smirk for at least an hour and fifty nine minutes.

But this wasn’t quite her usual smirk. It was more pronounced than normal. Sports fans will recognise the Patel smirk instantly, even if they have the very good fortune never to have laid eyes on Patel at all. It is the one that professional footballers pull at referees all the time. When a free kick goes against them, or they get sent off, they do that instantly recognisable little phoney chuckle, its purpose solely an attempt to undermine the person that has them bang to rights.

Patel was smirking double hard as she tried to style out the government’s most recent outrage, this one her own doing. Her little plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda with no right to return was launched more than three months ago now, and exactly 24 hours after Boris Johnson was handed his fixed penalty notice for breaking his own emergency Covid laws.

So Tuesday night’s atrocities had been a long time coming. On the day the first deportation flight was due to take place, the numbers on board had been whittled down by legal challenge from 130 to seven, one of whom was a former Iranian police officer who had been convicted in his own country of a crime that amounted to no more than refusing to order his troops to open fire on peaceful protesters.

He came to this country seeking sanctuary. We tried to send him to Rwanda to provide political cover for our prime minister’s own law-breaking. Seems beyond the bounds of the possible, doesn’t it? But no, it really is true. This is as bad as things have got.

The flight, in the end, never took off at all, after an intervention from judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Patel was smirking because she knew she was about to try and style this out as a big success. Some real galaxy brain thinking currently has it that the government can’t possibly lose out in its latest vindictive gimmick to drop-kick desperate people half a world away, into a country with a government that regularly jails its political opponents.

If it gets it done, it wins. If it doesn’t, it can kick up a row with the ECHR and wave the Brexit flag for a bit, which, despite continuing to wreck both the economy and the country’s international reputation, really is the only thing the government currently has going for it.

The problem with this ruse is you do need a tiny bit of brain to be able to pull it off – and thus it is beyond a very large number of the party’s own MPs.

Tom Hunt, the MP for Ipswich, took it upon himself to declare (on Twitter) that the only people who oppose the government’s Rwanda deportation plan are “members of elite society who have never had to live with the consequences of uncontrolled illegal immigration. When have they ever had to wait at length for a GP appointment? To get a place for their kid at the school of their choice? For a council house? Never. Their hysterical reaction to the Rwanda policy goes to show how out of touch they are.”

It’s not merely that the anti-elitist Hunt went to a £26,000-a-year school, more than the nation’s average wage. It’s not even that he is so toweringly dim that he can’t work out that, when his party’s been in government for 12 years, the way to stick up for it is probably not to spell out what a terrible job they’ve done in all three of the most important public services – housing, education and the NHS.

A word, as well, for Danny Kruger, the latest in a very long line of immensely self-regarding old Etonians to have a little go at politics and fast emerging as yet another absolute danger. He’s decided we need to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, and, fancying himself as something of a historian, also had the following to say (on the Tory MP’s WhatsApp group – no one actually asked him):

“Ultimately we do need to leave the [Convention] or return to the original, limited concept of human rights as drafted by British lawyers in the 50s to give post Nazi Europe the same rights and liberties as the UK had enjoyed for centuries.”

Look, we can’t all be as clever as Danny Kruger. It must be that he’s worked out something that the rest of us mere mortals haven’t. It’s just that, well, you know, is it worth pausing to reflect on how it might make your own side look, before you announce it’s definitely time to get rid of something that Winston Churchill brought in to try and protect people from Nazism?

It’s just that, when it’s your side that’s trying to fly a planeload of people, at least some of whom have come here to escape persecution in their own country, to Rwanda with no right of return, and you’ve decided that what’s standing in your way is some anti-Nazi legislation, then, maybe, just maybe, you’ve not considered that some of the little people might spot some dots that can be joined together there.

Not that they care. Whatever gets them through the day. They know it’s a gimmick, and they don’t care about the little lives that are ruined while they try or fail to make it happen.

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They know that it’s something for everyone to have a row about. The 26 bishops that sit in the House of Lords have already disowned the government, writing a joint letter in The Times about it, something they’ve never done before. Someone in Johnson’s government responded by anonymously suggesting it’s time the bishops be kicked out of the Lords.

Welcome, yet again, to the new conservatism, where they wave the flag as feverishly as they possibly can as a displacement activity for the misery they feel at hating absolutely everything about their country, the most recent additions to the list being the BBC and all of the most senior clergymen in the country.

Add to that the union being on the brink on more than one front, and our now wide international loathing, from Washington to Dublin to Paris to Berlin and Brussels. An incredible hit list, really.

When you’re that toweringly, unprecedentedly terrible, it’s hardly surprising you need to pick on the little guys to make yourself feel better. Trouble is, they don’t even appear to be able to do that either.

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