Conservative Intelligence

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Priti Patel MP

Position: Executive member, 1992 Committee 2010-

Last Updated: Friday, March 11th, 2011


One of the feistiest members of the new intake of Tory MPs elected last year is Priti Patel, who represents Witham in Essex.

Just this week she has expressed outrage at news that more than 1,600 prisoners are getting funding to study Open University degree courses while they are serving their sentences; urged the Government to work towards repatriating more powers from the EU; and welcomed Iain Duncan Smith’s “long overdue” Welfare Reform legislation, pressing the Government to take “strong action against those who are disregarding the traditional British value of fair play and have been using the benefits system as an alternative to work”.

The daughter of refugees from Uganda who ran a series of small businesses, she was born in 1972 and educated at a state comprehensive school in Watford, before going on to study Economics at Keele University and then British Government and Politics at the University of Essex.

She had joined the Conservative Party at the age of 18 and her first job after university was as a researcher in the Conservative Research Department (a role she was given by then CRD head Andrew Lansley after much badgering).

However, she became disenchanted with the direction of the Major Government, not least on European matters, and in 1995 went to work as a press officer for Sir James Goldsmith and the Referendum Party, which fielded 547 candidates against the Tories in 1997 on a Eurosceptic ticket.

But she was back in the Tory fold virtually immediately after the election, and working at Tory Central Office as deputy press secretary to the new leader, William Hague.

She later moved to the private sector, working in communications and lobbying – for Shandwick and Diageo among others – whilst remaining an active member of the Conservative Party. She chaired her local association in Erith and Thamesmead and unsuccessfully fought Nottingham North at the 2005 general election.

After David Cameron’s election as party leader and a shake-up of selection procedures, Patel was installed onto the A-List of the 50 men and 50 women which the party was keenest to see selected as candidates and so it was that was selected in November 2006 for Witham, a newly-created safe Tory berth in Essex drawing on parts of four existing seats.

She surprised many by landing the nomination for this far from ethnically diverse constituency, but in the words of one who witnessed her selection: “They didn’t choose her because she’s a woman and they didn’t choose her because she’s Asian; they chose her because she’s a Conservative – and a Right-wing Thatcherite Conservative at that”.

She is on the record as favouring a return to capital punishment and has defined her position on our relations with Europe in terms of wanting to see “a Britain that is governed by the British for the British”.

Since her election to Parliament, she has become a regular contributor in the Commons chamber, using her maiden speech to praise the free market policies of Margaret Thatcher which allowed the businesses of hard-working people like her parents to flourish.

She is clearly popular with her colleagues too, having been elected by them to serve on both the Executive of the 1922 Committee and the Board of the Party (being part of the successful 92 Group slate in the latter election).

She has not, however, exhibited many rebellious tendencies to date, despite her fervent Right-wing beliefs. In October 2010 she signed Douglas Carswell’s rebel amendment calling for a reduction in the British contribution to the EU and gave a typically robust contribution to the Commons debate on the matter, but when it came to the vote, she opted to abstain rather than blot her copy book with the Government whips.

She was recently appointed one of the Conservative Party’s official spokesmen for the campaign against Alternative Vote and if she is willing to continue toeing the party line (or at least not actively opposing it in the division lobbies), it is hard to see her not being promoted to the ranks of ministerial office: Cameron has long wanted to change the way the party looks and her many talents aside, the fact that Patel is an Asian woman can only aid her chances of a red box in due course.

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