This afternoon’s law and order theme to Tory conference did take a bit of a knock when police were called to an altercation involving one of the party’s MPs, resulting in the backbencher, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, being sent home. Not long after this incident, which sent parts of the conference centre into lockdown, Priti Patel walked onto the stage and announced that ‘today, here in Manchester, the Conservative party takes its rightful place as the Party of Law and Order in Britain once again’.
Politics today is so tumultuous that it has scarcely been thought remarkable that the Home Secretary is so happy to make clear that her party lost this badge under her predecessors, particularly given that Tory strategists believe the party lost it thanks to one predecessor in particular: Theresa May. The language that Patel used in her conference address wasn’t really far off some of the tough-talking leadership pitches that May offered to conference when she was Home Secretary, but the focus was very different.
May was proud of standing up to the police, showing that she had the steel to take on the Police Federation. Patel wants to stand up for the police, using Yoda-esque syntax to tell the hall that ‘support the police we will’. She repeatedly praised officers who ‘run toward danger, to ensure that we are not in danger’, and paid tribute to those who had been killed in the line of duty in recent years. There, once again, was that 20,000 new police officers pledge. She even gave a nod to the strained relationship between May and the force, saying: ‘Our police will know that I will back them to get this under control. If there has been any doubt about that commitment in the past, let that end here today.’
This was easily the most crowd-pleasing speech of the conference so far, even more so than Jacob rees-Mogg, who had activists eating out of his hand when he spoke on Sunday. Patel got some easy cheers with tributes to Margaret Thatcher, and also with policy pledges that she seemed to take extra special delight in, particularly the end to freedom of movement. The clip of her grinning as she mentioned this last has infuriated a number of commentators, as has her attack on the ‘North London metropolitan liberal elite’ (which appeared, within context, to be a direct reference to Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, but which a number of Jewish commentators have pointed out is also often used by anti-Semites). But Patel is even less likely to care about this sort of thing than Boris Johnson. She is a politician who displays very little anxiety and equivocation about her political position. And Tory members at least loved this.