Priti Patel is one of the most fascinating (and controversial) politicians in contemporary Britain. The 39-year-old Conservative MP is not only blessed with stunning good looks, but she is also of Asian Indian descent – somewhat of a rarity among Tory lawmakers.
Moreover, Patel (whose Indian Gujarati parents fled Idi Amin’s Uganda for Britain in the early 1970s) has hewed to a hard-right line on many political issues, including the death penalty, illegal immigration, labor unions and the UK’s integration with Europe.
Regarding the death penalty, Patel recently told a television news affairs program: “I would actually support the re-introduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent. I have no issue on having a debate -- I think far too many politicians do run away from debating issues like this.”
She is frequently described in the British press as a “rising star” in the Conservative Party and some believe she might one day become the first Asian Prime Minister of the U.K.
Indeed, Patel might even be considered a “British” version of Nikki Haley, the very telegenic young governor of South Carolina in the U.S., who is not only of Indian Sikh descent, but also a darling of the right-wing Tea Party and hailed as a potential future Vice President or even Presidential candidate.
International Business Times spoke with an expert on British politics to discuss the phenomenon of Priti Patel.
Dr. Victoria Honeyman is a lecturer in British Politics at Leeds University, UK.
IB TIMES: Tory MP Priti Patel has said she would like to restore the death penalty in the UK, in light of the execution in the United States of Troy Davis. Is there significant support for capital punishment in Britain now?
HONEYMAN: Yes, there is significant support amongst the general public for the re-introduction of the death penalty, and this has nothing to do with crime figures.
Violent crime in Britain is relatively low and certainly lower than in many other Western nations, but large swathes of the public support capital punishment. The reason for this seems to be related to the cost of keeping people in prison -- the fact that a “life sentence” in Britain generally does not mean the whole of a person's life. There is also a call to punish people.
Many consider prisons to not be “punishing” enough, with “an eye for an eye” being the ultimate sanction. Often those supporters quantify their support by arguing that it should only be used in cases where there is no doubt over guilt -- for example, where DNA evidence has been used.
IB TIMES: The last execution in England was in 1964 and the death penalty was abolished in 1965. Typically, are convicted murderers now sentenced to life in prison?
HONEYMAN: Convicted murderers receive a mandatory life sentences with a recommendation from the judge on how long that period should be before the person is suitable for parole.
IB TIMES: Patel is herself the daughter of Ugandan Asian immigrants who fled Idi Amin. What is her view on immigration to Britain now? Does she favor reductions that Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed?
HONEYMAN: Ms. Patel publically states that she supports an immigration policy which puts “Britain first.” That statement is open to interpretation, but suggests that she supports Cameron's plans on limiting non-EU immigration.
She is a very loyal Conservative MP and seems to support Cameron strongly.
IB TIMES: Patel is often described as a “rising star” in the Tory Party. Is this just a cliché, or does she have a real chance of becoming PM someday?
HONEYMAN: Not all “rising stars” become Prime Minister! She certainly seems to be an MP to watch but that does not necessarily equal attaining the top job.
The Cabinet might well be calling for her, but that rather depends on the longevity of this current government.
IB TIMES: Patel was placed on Cameron's “A-list” of election candidates -- what exactly does this mean? Does it suggest she may one day land a job in the PM’s cabinet?
HONEYMAN: The “A” list was a list generated before the last general election. On this list were placed the names of various candidates which were given a very high priority. This meant that many of them were adopted by safe -- or relatively safe -- seats before the election, increasing the likelihood of them being elected.
Cameron used this list to ensure that women and ethnic minorities, which are very under-represented in British politics generally and the Conservative party specifically, were more likely to be adopted than perhaps they otherwise would have been.
Inclusion on the A-list did not guarantee a seat or an election victory, nor does it guarantee a place in Cabinet.
IB TIMES: Patel has also come out strongly against the labor unions. Again, is she simply parroting the typical Tory line against unions, or does she seem to have a genuine dislike for trade unionism?
HONEYMAN: The two things are not necessarily separate. Many Conservative MPs actively dislike certain union activity (or the union movement more widely) and utilize party rhetoric to demonstrate this. This seems to be the case with Ms. Patel, along with many other Conservative MPs.
IB TIMES: Do you think her hard-right views on the death penalty and unions will kill Patel’s future political aspirations?
HONEYMAN: I doubt it. Within the Conservative party, these views might not be official policy but that doesn't make them rare. To support a policy personally as an MP is one thing, but that doesn't automatically mean that you will be pushing that policy officially.
The party does not back the re-introduction of the death penalty, nor are they declaring all-out war on the unions, and therefore currently these are personal views, not indicative of policy. The two can be separated and often are in British politics.
Only last week, the Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May was discussing her desire to abandon the British Human Rights Act. This is a personal aim, and not party policy, despite her being Home Secretary, and that is generally accepted.
IB TIMES: Patel is MP for Witham, a suburban, overwhelmingly white, constituency in county Essex. How does the Asian community in Britain view Patel? Do they embrace her, or keep their distance?
HONEYMAN: Difficult to know. This is not easily measurable.
IB TIMES: Is there any indication that more British Asians are shifting their allegiance to the Conservative Party?
HONEYMAN: The general view has always been that members of the ethnic minorities in Britain tend to vote Labour, but this is largely dependent on the ethnic minority group being focused on and the specific election being considered.
While it is great to see women -- and particularly women from ethnic minorities -- entering the Houses of Parliament, I don't think this should be seen as the beginning of a stampede, either towards Westminster or the Conservatives. Change of that magnitude would require a longer time period and more persuasion.