Smirky Spice: How Priti Patel is little more than a wannabe Spice Girl

PUBLISHED: 15:10 26 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:31 26 February 2020

(Left to right) Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Iain Duncan Smith and John Whittingdale attend the launch of the Vote Leave campaign at the group's headquarters in central London. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

(Left to right) Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Iain Duncan Smith and John Whittingdale attend the launch of the Vote Leave campaign at the group's headquarters in central London. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

STEVE ANGLESEY on the similarities between home secretary Priti Patel and her old classmate Geri Horner (née Halliwell).

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Given the name of a famous person and the instruction to name a single interesting fact about them, most people will come up with the same set of answers. David Bowie? His eyes were different colours. Shot-putting strongman Geoff Capes? He breeds budgies now. Delia Smith? She baked the cake on the cover of the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed.

Similarly, the one bit of trivia everyone knows about Priti Patel is that she was at Watford Grammar School for Girls with Geri Halliwell (who was one year ahead, with Patel in the same year as Labour's Liz Kendall).

The future Ginger Spice must have made quite an impression on the future home secretary, for every move the younger woman has made since seems to be following in Geri's platformed footsteps. There's the patriotism worn on their sleeves (even though Geri's union flag dress at the 1997 Brit awards didn't actually have sleeves). There are the swipes at Labour (in 1996 Geri declared Tony Blair was "not a safe pair of hands for the economy").

Both women went on holiday with unfortunate results (Patel lost her job as international development secretary in 2017 after it emerged she had held unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials while in holiday in the country; when Halliwell secretly quit her band in 1998, the official line that a dicky stomach had prevented a TV appearance with the other Spices was slightly undermined when the paparazzi caught her flying out to France en vacances). Both are big fans of Mrs Thatcher ("definitely the original Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology", Geri once said, which must have been nice for Scouse Spice Mel C).

Priti Patel arriving at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA.Priti Patel arriving at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA.

And just as Geri was defined by Brexit at the October 2018 People's Vote march, where a banner read: "This is like when Geri Halliwell overestimated her viability as a solo artist and left the Spice Girls", so Patel surely will be defined by Brexit in the years to come.

Today, she rampages through the Home Office just as her elder schoolmate ran amok through central London in 1997's Spice World. The list of crimes committed by the Spices in that Oscars near-miss - "dangerous driving, criminal damage, flying a bus without a licence and frightening the pigeons," says a policeman - don't even begin to cover Patel's reign of terror. The greatest hits so far include her revolting, unworkable immigration rules, allegations of bullying, misleading statistics, claims that MI5 officials do not trust her and the revelation that her constituency team includes a former UKIP candidate who has argued that women should not be frontline police and soldiers.

Still, as the Spices sang, "If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends". And no better explanation for Patel's scattergun strategy exists than the idea that it all stems from her interpretations of Halliwell's songs.

For cannot Patel's demands on her staff, which have already led to one resignation and an entertaining public spat with permanent secretary Philip Rutnam, be summed up by the Wannabe line "You wanna get with me, you gotta listen carefully"? The whole of Say You'll Be There seems to describe the horrors of trying to impose Priti Power on a department of sad old blokes, from "Tell me, will this deja vu never end?" to "If you can't work this equation, Then I guess I'll have to show you the door". And the line "This I swear (yes I swear)" (from Say You'll Be There) clearly inspired Patel's habit, in one of her former departments, of striding out of her office and inquiring, "Why is everyone so f**king useless?"

Tory MP James Grundy. Photograph: House of Commons.Tory MP James Grundy. Photograph: House of Commons.

Elsewhere, what is 2 Become 1 if not an ambitious target to reduce net migration by 50%? And what simpler message to unskilled workers earning less than £25,600 is there than "Stop right now, thank you very much"? Because, as we're all agreed, "Too much of something is bad enough".

When Priti Patel hears Mi Chico Latino drifting out of the radio, she doesn't do what most of us do and chuckle at Halliwell's shameless lift of Madonna's La Isla Bonita. No, she listens to her school chum warbling about being taken back to the place she'd rather be, back to her sweet la vida, and hears the impassioned plea of a visa overstayer begging to be placed on a repatriation flight so she can find her love, her
dolce vita. "Show me where I need to go," begs Geri, and Priti has the answer: Anywhere you like, love, as long as it's out of here.

For while Britain is still open to all the colours of the world, every boy and every girl, you need to speak English, earn 26 grand or have totted up 70 Big Migrant Points first. You suspect that if Priti were Geri, 2001's album Scream If You Wanna Go Faster would have been called Scream If You Want Low-Skilled Immigrants To Go Faster.

In short, to rework what Geri Halliwell wrote of herself on that record's underrated Heaven and Hell: "It's heaven, it's hell/Being Priti Patel." If Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, Priti could be the sixth, leaving us with a line-up of Ginger, Posh Baby, Sporty, Scary and Smirky.

This week's selection

PAULA BARKER

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The Corbynista true believer, who replaced Luciana Berger as Labour MP for Wavertree, told a rally for Rebecca Long-Bailey's flagging leadership bid: "Never let us again say after a national referendum, to our people, that they got it wrong."

So does that mean that all of the Labour voters who switched to the Tories in December 2019 were right? And that Corbyn's manifesto was wrong? And how does it all marry with Barker's support last year for "Labour's plan involving negotiating a Brexit deal and putting it back to the people"? Especially since she said in November 2018: "We should be very wary of those trying to shift Labour's position on Europe towards having a second referendum. What we need, comrades, is Brexit. A people's Brexit, that paves the way for a more democratic, more equal and fairer UK."

THE FLOODY IDIOTS

Current Tory MP Owen Paterson, former UKIP MEP Roger Helmer and a Question Time audience member are among those blaming recent floods on an EU ban on dredging British rivers. As ever, there is nothing of the sort. An EU directive introduced in 2000 prohibits dredging if it disturbs the habitats of some protected creatures, but makes clear that exceptions can be made where there is a risk of flooding.

Meanwhile the 10% spending increases on flood defences in the final two years of the last Labour government were washed away under Conservative austerity. When viewed as a share of GDP, spending on flood defences in 2018-19 was still substantially lower than it was in the final year of the last Labour government. What an outpouring of lies!

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH

The former Tory leader warned of "problems ahead for the UK" in Brexit negotiations, claiming: "One of them is the quality of the people now working on this. If you haven't negotiated for 40 years you need to reach out to all those people that are involved in negotiations, really good transactional lawyers that exist in the City of London. Proper trade economists…

"We are up against the EU and the EU has been negotiating trade deals for 40 years. So we need to make sure we draw upon the talents of anybody that has skills in this area".

So nearly four years after the Leavers told us that "people in this country have had enough of experts", what we need turns out to be… experts?!

JAMES GRUNDY

"Raise a glass for Brexit," was the headline on a celebratory Wigan Today article written by Leigh's first Tory MP on January 31. In it, Grundy urged readers to "raise a glass to the ordinary people of Leigh, our borough, and indeed of Britain, who stuck to their guns and made the establishment bend the knee."

But let's hope James, whose election slogan was "Let's get Brexit done and fix our town", chose to celebrate responsibly. Archive video footage from 2007 has emerged of him dropping his trousers in Lowton's Rams Head Inn, a pub in his constituency, before lifting his shirt to reveal a complete lack of Grundypants.

So one hopes a glass was the only thing Grundy raised on Brexit night.

- Steve Anglesey co-hosts The New European podcast, available every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Audioboom, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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