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Priti Late To The Party
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After five years on the election hamster wheel, Brits have grown used to hearing politicians repeat slogans ad nauseam.
The message plastered across billboards and permeating the airwaves in 2020 – the forbidding “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” – is, of course, no plea for support. It’s an instruction from a government.
The coronavirus crisis is unprecedented and Boris Johnson just three months ago secured an overwhelming mandate, but the leeway the public are prepared to hand any government has limits.
Road blocks and cops rifling through shopping baskets to check people are buying “necessary, legitimate” items – as one police chief threatened and hastily rowed back from today – proved to be a step too far.
Dominic Raab, the first secretary of state – the minister deputising for Johnson, who the nation was happy to learn was tonight moved out of intensive care – tried to strike a conciliatory tone at tonight’s Downing Street press conference as he acknowledged the Easter weekend will test Brits’ patience with the coronavirus lockdown.
Looking into the camera, he urged those watching “let’s not ruin it now” and “we must keep going” to flatten the curve.
Police forces have been handed new powers, but their officers are already run ragged dispersing crowds and handing out fines, and chiefs are finding it increasingly difficult to enforce the rules (something not made easier by communities secretary Robert Jenrick if tonight’s Guardian story about him visiting his parents turns out to be true).
All of which has made people question why we have heard so little from the minister responsible for law and order – Priti Patel.
The home secretary today gave an interview to Talk Radio – her first since Johnson almost three weeks ago announced these extraordinary curbs on people’s freedoms.
While warning police chiefs checking shopping was “not appropriate” and the lockdown is “not about overreaching”. Remarkably, it seems she also had to clarify to the wider public she was still doing her job: “In fact, every single day I’m leading operational calls with our blue light family.”
Her absence is not an accident. Patel has turned down an appearance before the Commons’ powerful home affairs select committee four times, leaving its chairwoman, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, clearly irritated.
She has also not once chaired one of the daily press conferences on Covid-19, despite holding one of the great offices of state.
One former post-holder, Jacqui Smith, today told HuffPost UK that Patel was guilty of “failing in her responsibility”.
The first ever female home secretary also suggested ministers may be sidelining Patel for another reason – because she’s a woman.
This could be true. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Jenrick, environment secretary George Eustice and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove have all held court, whereas, say, Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions minister, has not, despite the outbreak seeing a rise of more than one million people claiming Universal Credit.
The more likely scenario is that Patel is being kept from the limelight because she remains under investigation for a string of bullying allegations. Gove has said Patel rejects the claims.
Number 10 insists Patel has the full confidence of the PM. The home secretary’s near-invisibility as the country grapples with the biggest crisis for a generation certainly suggests otherwise.
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Wes Streeting MP joins us on this week’s episode of Commons People. We discuss the prime minister’s time in intensive care and Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet appointments after his Labour leadership victory.
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Quote Of The Day
“The news we all wanted to hear.”
– First secretary of state Dominic Raab after learning Boris Johnson had been moved out of intensive care.
The total number of coronavirus cases across the world has reached at least 1.5m, Johns Hopkins University has said.
Lockdown measures will likely be extended as the government confirmed the UK has not reached the peak of the virus. Dominic Raab said: “We haven’t reached the peak of the virus, so it’s still too early to lift the measures we’ve put in place.
Boris Johnson continues to improve after being moved from intensive care onto a hospital ward at St Thomas’ Hospital. Saying the PM was “in extremely good spirits”, a Downing Street spokesperson said “he will receive close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery” from coronavirus.
What I’m Reading
Why are fewer women dying from the coronavirus? | Vox