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Politician & Activist

Priti Patel

Priti Sushil Patel is a British politician who has served as Secretary of State for the Home Department since 2019 and the Member of Parliament for Witham since 2010.

She served as Secretary of State for International Development from 2016 to 2017.

A member of the Conservative Party, she is ideologically positioned on the party’s right wing and considers herself to be a Thatcherite.

  • Full name: Priti Sushil Patel
  • Profession: British politician
  • Born: 29 March 1972 (age 48 years), London
  • Nationality: British
  • Spouse: Alex Sawyer (m. 2004)
  • Education: Keele University (1994), University of Essex Colchester Campus
  • Parents: Anjana Patel, Sushil Patel
  • Children: Freddie Sawyer
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About Priti Patel

Priti Patel was born on 29 March 1972 in London, England. To a Ugandan-Indian family. She is the daughter of Sushil and Anjana Patel.  

Her paternal grandparents were born in Tarapur, Gujarat, before emigrating to Uganda, and establishing a shop in Kampala.

In the 1960s her parents emigrated to the UK and settled in Hertfordshire. They established a chain of newsagents in London and the South East of England.

Patel attended Watford Grammar School for Girls, before studying Economics at Keele University and then pursuing postgraduate studies in British Government and Politics at the University of Essex.

The Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher became her political heroine: according to Patel, she “had a unique ability to understand what made people tick, households tick and businesses tick. Managing the economy, balancing the books and making decisions – not purchasing things the country couldn’t afford”.

She first joined the Conservative Party as a teenager, when John Major was Prime Minister.

Career

After graduating, Patel became an intern at Conservative Central Office (now known as Conservative Campaign Headquarters), having been selected by Andrew Lansley (then Head of the Conservative Research Department).

From 1995 to 1997, Patel headed the press office of the Referendum Party, a single-issue Eurosceptic party.

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In 1997, Patel left to join the Conservative Party having been offered a post to work for the new leader William Hague in his press office, dealing with media relations in London and the South East of England.

In August 2003, the Financial Times published an article citing quotes from Patel and alleging that “racist attitudes” persisted in the Conservative Party, and that “there’s a lot of bigotry around”.

Patel wrote to the FT countering its article stating that her comments had been misinterpreted to imply that she had been blocked as a party candidate because of her ethnicity.

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In 2000 Patel left the employment of the Conservative Party to work for Weber Shandwick, a PR consulting firm.

According to an investigative article published by The Guardian in May 2015, Patel was one of seven Weber Shandwick employees who worked on British American Tobacco (BAT) – a major account. The team had been tasked with helping BAT manage the company’s public image during the controversy around the Burma factory being used as source of funds by its military dictatorship and poor payment to factory workers.

The crisis eventually ended with BAT pulling out of Burma in 2003. The article went on to quote BAT employees who felt that though a majority of Weber Shandwick employees were uncomfortable working with them, Patel’s group was fairly relaxed.

The article also quoted internal documents specifying that a part of Patel’s job was also to lobby MEPs against EU tobacco regulations. She worked for Weber Shandwick for three years.

Patel then moved to the British multinational alcoholic beverages company, Diageo, and worked in corporate relations between 2003 and 2007.

In 2007, she rejoined Weber Shandwick as Director of Corporate and Public Affairs practices. According to their press release, during her time at Diageo, Patel had “worked on international public policy issues related to the wider impact of alcohol in society.”

Summary

She was educated at Keele University and the University of Essex. Inspired to get involved in politics by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she was initially involved with the Referendum Party before switching allegiance to the Conservatives.

She worked for the public-relations consultancy firm Weber Shandwick for several years, as part of which she lobbied for the tobacco and alcohol industries.

Intending to switch to a political career, she unsuccessfully contested Nottingham North at the 2005 general election.

After David Cameron became Conservative leader, he recommended Patel for the party’s “A-List” of prospective candidates.

She was first elected MP for Witham, a Conservative safe seat in Essex, at the 2010 general election, before being re-elected in 2015 and 2017.

Under Cameron’s government, Patel was appointed Minister of State for Employment and served as vice-chair of the Conservative Friends of Israel. She attracted attention for her socially conservative stances.

A longstanding Eurosceptic, Patel was a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign during the build-up to the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the European Union.

Following Cameron’s resignation, Patel backed Theresa May as Conservative leader; May subsequently appointed Patel Secretary of State for International Development.

In 2017 she was involved in a political scandal involving unauthorised meetings with the Government of Israel, ending her tenure as International Development Secretary. Under Boris Johnson’s premiership, she became Home Secretary in 2019, the first ethnic minority woman to hold the office.

Patel has been criticised by political opponents for defending the tobacco and alcohol industries, and for advocating threatening the Republic of Ireland with food shortages during Brexit negotiations.

Patel said her comments were “taken out of context” and that she did not refer specifically to the risk of food shortages.