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Another day, another embarrassment for Theresa May's government. If there are any more resignations, the Cabinet is going to be a very lonely place. This time, it was the turn of Priti Patel to hand in her notice. I wonder who's next — it's rather exciting! Anyway, the UK government will probably have legitimacy until at least the weekend, so let's take a look at this one misdemeanour along the way to the implosion of the Conservative Party.
Priti Patel is said to have met with the Israeli Prime Minister and other government officials while off on her holidays, without the authorisation of No. 10. That strikes me as odd, and ill-thought-out: realistically, how could she act on whatever was discussed at these meetings alone? We have so many layers of policy-making to pass any new law, that even if she managed to convince the Conservative Party of a pro-Israel amendment, the chances of it getting past the Cabinet, and then through the Commons, are tiny.
But all this assumes that we can take at face value the claim that Patel just fell into these meetings while sipping margaritas by the pool. You may have spotted a couple of holes in this fantastical story, but let's do some proper digging. What are the chances then, that while Ms. Patel was enjoying the sunshine and scenery, she just bumped into President Netanyahu, who then said: “Hey Priti, great to see you – me and my gang from work are having a little soiree later, fancy joining us? Oh, bring a notebook. Theresa? Oh, she doesn't really need to know.”
Not very likely, is the answer. And that's before you even consider the logistical challenges of setting it up and then keeping it quiet. Even less likely, given that it has since been revealed that the meetings were set up two weeks in advance by Lord Polak, a member of the House of Lords and honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel, a parliamentary group that 80% of Conservative MPs belong to.
So anyway, Priti Patel flew to Israel on 12th August with her husband, son, and, er, a life peer, for a completely normal family holiday. I don't know about you, but I regularly take senior parliamentarians on holiday with me. Especially to Butlins; they fucking love it. All completely normal. Even more normal is the fact that they had to postpone their family time for an unexpected meeting with the leader of a political party on the day after they arrived. That's awfully bad luck, but these things happen. Similarly so for the following 13 meetings she held with Israeli ministers over the next two weeks — things don't always go to plan when on holiday. I don't know about you, but those alarm bells are turning into blaring sirens.
Even more nails are being hammered into the coffin with revelations that Boris Johnson knew about these plans beforehand. Turns out Boris can't be sacked, as we've already lost two cabinet ministers in a week, and we're running out of replacements. It has also been said that "Boris could turn up for Cabinet, drop his pants, poop on the table, stick a sparkler in it, light it with a fart and still not get sacked" — which makes me wonder if he actually has already done that. Hopefully his Teflon veneer will wear off by the end of the month, before he gets into any more diplomatic scrapes (remember the Libya “dead bodies” joke, and the “watermelon smiles” comment? And that's not even the half of it).
So who exactly did Priti Patel meet while on holiday and where did she go? At present, we know that she attended 14 meetings and met with senior government officials, including Benjamin Netanyahu (Prime Minister), Gilad Erdan (Public Security Minister), Yuval Rotem (Foreign Office Minister), Michael Oren (Deputy Minister), and Yair Lapid (leader of the Yesh Atid party). Presumably she just bumped into them all while out for a bit of shopping; nothing to see here.
She also visited an Israeli military hospital in the Golan Heights — which is a massive diplomatic faux-pas: not only would such behaviour be an infringement of a UN resolution, but also the position of the UK government. Parliament recognises this region to be an illegally-occupied part of Syria. But who hasn't accidentally wandered into a disputed territory while out sightseeing, right?
So when Theresa May got wind of the International Development Secretary's extra-curricular activities, she did the responsible thing and ordered Ms. Patel back from her travels for a stern telling-off. Or maybe she acted so swiftly because the Jewish Chronicle had run a piece on these meetings and the cat was out of the bag. Either way, it's probably a good thing she got recalled, as she was already on her way to Uganda and who knows who else she might have held meetings with? Uganda and Israel have a good relationship, but who knows if there's any connection there? If there is — we'll find out soon!
So now, Priti Patel's back in the UK, and she has graciously handed in her resignation letter after grovelling to the PM to explain her actions. I'd love to know what they actually talked about — I'm guessing that Theresa May will have had an inkling of Priti's travel itinerary beforehand. Unless she really is that clueless, which might explain a few other things that have happened on her watch.