HENRY DEEDES sees the Home Secretary talking tough about lockdown rule-breakers 

Enter The Enforcer. Priti Patel slowly click-clacked into yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, lower jaw out, forearms bared, camera lens fixed with her best ‘let’s be ‘avin’ ya’ glare.

She had come to lay down the law. Too many people were flouting lockdown rules. Or, as she put it, ‘breachin’ regulations’. So once again the Home Secretary was swingin’ her truncheon and this time she was crackin’ skulls.

This was Priti’s first appearance at these briefings since May. Whenever Miss Patel visits, one imagines a nervy aura falls on Number Ten. Crockery-carrying catering staff develop a bad case of the shakes. Lily-livered civil servants suddenly find needless departmental briefings they need to attend.

Priti ‘The Enforcer’ Patel came to lay down the law at people flouting lockdown rules

We were told the police have so far issued more than 45,000 fines to those in breach of regulations. Nearly 50,000! Chancellor Rishi Sunak will have been cock-a-hoop. Lord knows he could use the cash.

Priti announced this without a scintilla of remorse. On the contrary, she paraded the figure like a badge of honour.

Many Conservatives have balked at the way we have quietly morphed into a police state over the past year. Not Priti. She loves it. Revels in it. All those people who have been complaining about park benches and playgrounds being taped up should count their blessings. If the Home Sec had her way she’d have them all electrified.

She made it clear that, however unpopular the rules were, the rozzers had her full support – they were ‘excellent’ apparently. At one point she even referred to them as ‘my police officers’.

While many Conservatives have balked at the police state we have become, Priti revels in it

While many Conservatives have balked at the police state we have become, Priti revels in it

‘My message to anyone refusing to do the right thing is simple. If you do not pay your part our selfless police officers will enforce the regulations and I will back them to do so,’ she said matter-of-factly.

Accompanying her was Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS medical director for London.

Both stood ramrod-straight against their lecterns. No stand-easies permitted when Officer Patel is on deck! Hewitt was briefly allowed to speak a few words. Quiet, beaverish sort of fellow. He wore the uniform but looked as though he would be more at home in woolly knits and Cornish pasty shoes. Show this man an episode of The Sweeney with John Thaw pinning a suspect against the wall, yelling ‘you’re nicked!’ and he’d probably wince.

He began by publicly shaming a few of the more flagrant rule-breakers. There was the boat party of more than 40 people in Hertfordshire. In this weather?

Priti could not answer when a member of the public asked why restrictions are more relaxed than last spring

Priti could not answer when a member of the public asked why restrictions are more relaxed than last spring

Somerset police had also broken up an illegal rave organised last weekend. Happily, my West Country police snouts assure me Somerset resident Jacob Rees-Mogg was not among the revellers.

Bullet-headed Dr Vin had little new to add. He reminded us how we all needed to behave as if Covid was a ‘horrible, horrible’ disease. Yes, yes. As insights go, this was like telling us Taylor Swift has quite nice legs. A member of the public called Ian asked why restrictions were more relaxed than last spring when the new strain is supposedly more lethal.

Priti couldn’t really answer that. Not that she felt minded to. ‘Follow the rules!’ she barked. ‘Stay local.’

A chap from the BBC tried again. ‘Stick with the rules, think about your actions, stay local and we will get on top of this pandemic,’ she ordered by way of response.

Someone asked what ‘staying local’ actually meant. Two women in Derbyshire had recently been fined for going on a walk five miles from their home. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister had gone on a bike ride in the Olympic village seven miles from Downing Street. How was that fair?

Priti said the police had the right to reserve judgment in these cases.

Her mouth broadened but there was not a hint of contrition in this response.

Besides, she added, the fines in Derbyshire were rescinded. Hewitt was more bashful. ‘Sometimes mistakes will be made,’ he shrugged apologetically.

Not someone you’d want fighting your corner at an employment tribunal, I suspect.

After an awkward round of thank yous, the Home Secretary slipped away, back to her paperwork and possibly to untie a few unruly assistants who’d needed to be taught a lesson.

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