What will be the political future of Priti Patel MP, Cameron’s Indian Diaspora champion and the Minister of state for employment, in the changed political scenario? During the last election campaign, Cameron was talking about a British Asian prime minister in the near future. Is she going to step into that slot? Or is she going to become the first British Asian deputy prime minister under a new leader when Prime Minister David Cameron leaves the centre stage in 2020?
As the battle lines are drawn on EU clashes, the focus is now on the most crucial person in the cabinet who can tilt the balance either way. The Mail on Sunday carried a front page picture of Priti with a headline REVEALED: The Cabinet Minister Who Will Fight to Leave EU. The Sun on Sunday also carried a story on the similar line. The newspaper said Priti will become the poster girl for Brexit as Tory heavy weights Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have gone cold on the idea of leading the Leave campaign. But sources close to Priti says “it’s all just speculations.”
Asian Lite’s Editor Azeez Anasudhin meets Priti Patel MP to discuss EU; Language classes; immigration and the crucial role of British Indians in the electoral process
Azeez: You are one among the first Asians to wave the Tory flag high. Why?
Priti: I found it very offensive that the Labour Party took the Asian community in the UK for granted. I found it incredibly insulting. That was my motivation. That they would engage with us only during the election time and never pick up any of the issues affecting the community. I was adamant that we would change that. Within the last five years, Cameron earned more respect and contacts with the Asian community than other any other leader. No 10 opened its doors for Diwali, Vaisakhi, Eid etc. He has done brilliantly in terms of campaigning and public support.
Azeez: How significant are ‘Indian voters’ to the Conservative Party and why should they support you?
Priti: Asian traditional values have similarities with Conservative values – family, aspiration, commitment and a role in the community. Asian values are Conservative values. If you look at the wider Asian community, the picture is so clear. There are too many success stories. Over hundred thousands of British Asians are running their own businesses and doing amazing things. Many of them are improving their professional profiles. Some of them are highly successful in terms of the professional sector like the NHS. British Asians community support is a great contribution to Britain and its economy. It speaks volumes in terms of the shared values and the shared agenda. They are hard-working, ambitious and aspiring people and it reflect in their support to Conservative party in the last General Elections.
Azeez: You won the confidence of the Indian community in the last General Election. What is the secret?
Priti: I think it is engagement and being very genuine about our engagement as well. I go back to my point of contrasting the Labour approach…but at the same time, shared values of aspirations, wanting to better yourself…these are Conservative values. Focusing on education, doing the right thing for your family, great emphasis on the support of your family, these actually are Conservative values. I am a Conservative, have always been a Conservative and being of Indian origin…my family are as well…that is the values of our family.
Azeez: What is your take on Cameron’s immigration policy?
Priti: Our policy on immigration is absolutely clear, and it is a policy of controlled immigration that make sure people who come to UK, come to Britain should work and contribute to Britain, our society and our economy. And this is in a stark contrast to the immigration we inherited back in 2010, where the policy was one of uncontrolled immigration, where there were no control for many countries, not necessarily those in the EU, but outside of the EU.
Specifically when it came to EU, there were some accession states to join the EU under previous Labour governments and under previous Labour prime ministers. There were no checks and balances and then there was this system. A system within the welfare state, where we became a target because of our benefit system was far too generous basically.
People from EU would come here and not contribute and get the benefits. We have made certain fundamental changes to our benefit system and immigration policy. The Immigration Act in the last parliament has changed the policy so that people from EU could not come to UK, automatically get a house, claim benefits, we have changed that. But also for countries outside EU, like countries like India for example, we have put checks on controlled immigration through our visa system so that people are not being exploited. There was this situation back in 2010, where lots of bogus universities offering bogus degrees all over the country was exploiting students from countries like India, they were given false documents and false hopes. We have changed that. We have brought in a system of controlled visa by which people who really want to come and study in UK can come through the right universities and right admissions to get educational qualifications.
Azeez: First they slashed the money for language classes. Now there is £20 million to teach them English. Is it going to work?
Priti: The prime minister has always been clear about the people who live in Britain, who come to Britain, should always contribute to society and values. Language is always a crucial aspect to that. He has highlighted that fact that for too long some communities in Britain do not speaks English, not even seek to speak English. He is saying that it should not be the case anymore. We have invested in language courses, language provisions, language training, and he is bringing more resources behind that, because we feel that it is important to Britain, to British values and when it comes to integrating to Britain as well.
Azeez: Red Door and Red Band for Refugees. Is it a sign of Apartheid Britain?
Priti: I know that Home Office is looking into this. I would like to say that there should not be any kind of discrimination, be it red doors or red bands, because refugees in the UK are here on their legitimate grounds. Cases are obviously being processed and they are being supported when they come here and it is not acceptable that there should be any kind of discrimination.
Azeez: A known Eurosceptic is on fray to become London mayor. There are several supporting the OUT campaign. Is there any mutiny in the Tory camp?
Priti: No, absolutely not. Conservative Party is the only party and the only government in a generation, which has gone to the people and asked them to have a say on Europe. Whether we are united on this or not,we are committed by our election manifesto for the 2015 General Election. So we are the only political party who has given the British public a chance to say whether or not we should stay in or out of the EU by the end of 2017. So we are united.
We have a prime minister in a generation who has gone to Europe and said, “Look Britain’s relationship with Europe is not working anymore,” – and he is fighting for a renegotiation with the European leaders….and we are all one party supporting him on that renegotiation, and when that renegotiation concludes, he will then go to the country and then hold a referendum.”
Azeez: What will be the future of Indo-UK relations?
Priti: There is an exciting future for UK and India. We were proud to host Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November last year, heavily involved in the planning and execution of that visit and a lot of content in that visit as well. And the point of that visit was that it has literally set the tone of the direction of travel for the two great countries, with one great future together; And that future is based on our people ties and the close relationship we have towards our people to people ties and also when it comes to jobs, employment, skills in particular, to meet Modi’s hugely ambitious economic reforms that he has for India.
Having recently come from India, Modi announced his policy of skilling up young people in India and he was very clear about the contribution of UK and British firms in this regard.
India has obviously one of the youngest democracy in the world. Mr Modi has a huge ambition to train young Indians to get skilled, to get them educated, and we are part of that through our educational partnerships, through our business partnerships as well. And then when Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was here recently, these were part of the discussions we had…we are making this a reality through the MoUs being signed and through many of our businesses who are in India right now, who are employing young Indians to skill them to train them.
Azeez: You are a very successful British Asian women in politics. Do you want more of British Asian women to join politics?
Priti: I constantly say that I am just one person, one MP of Indian origin. If nothing else, I hope to open the gateway for others to come forward too. So I spend a lot of time encouraging others to come forward, stand for office, getting involved in community work, public life, in particular, because only when you have done that you have an idea of what the role of a member of parliament involves. And I have made it a mission, not just as part of the diaspora community, but as an MP of Indian origin as well, that I do my best to mentor people and encourage people to come forward.
Azeez: There was a Hindu convert as a Jihadi for ISIS- Siddhartha Dhar. Are we lacking anything to stem the rot?
Priti: Indian community is incredibly strong around the world and successful as well. We are very rooted in family and community and the family roots go very, very deep. What I would say though is that we are dealing with an International death cult right now, and this is an international effort working with all our global partners to eradicate them. Be clear about that, they are challenging our family values, they are challenging our way of life, none of us will tolerate that. If we look at India itself, India had their dual security and challenges every single day during my recent visit. They had that Pathankot attack when I was just about to go there, and it need emphasising that whatever form of terrorism and terrorist attacks are out there, we British government collectively, along with our counterparts across the world will stand up to them and defy them.
Azeez: Do you want to see UK as a cultural crucible or a Thali?
Priti: Thali, of course. We have a huge culture in UK and that makes us all proud to be British and UK is a vibrant cultural melting pot for cultures, diversities, multi-faith, multi ethnic, and that gives us great pride basically and that makes us stand out as a beacon in the world and look at the challenges some other cultures have when it comes to facing some issues of integration , that we are a great shining example of how multi-cultural, multi ethnic people can all come together and integrate themselves into the British society and live together as one whole, and other countries can look up to us to see how different communities can live together and make a mark, in the societies across the world. I say this not as a politician, but as a member of the Indian community, that we can be successful in other communities as well
Priti: I think Hollywood. But I like Bollywood. It helped my Hindi.
A: Daal Chaaval or Pizza?
P: Daal Chaaval definitely
A: Margaret Thatcher or Indira?
A: Bachchan or Hugh Grant?
A: Favourite Destination
P: India and the Middle East. They are both close.
A: Role model
P: My parents are a great role model for me.
A: Significant day?
P: I think it has to be 2010 election
A: Significant moment
P: Becoming Member of Parliament
A: Greatest achievement
P: Becoming a parent
A: Any inspirational book
P: Bhagwat Gita
A: Influent person
P: Thatcher in politics