Priti Patel presented herself to the Tory faithful “clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,” as Alfred Lord Tennyson might have put it.
She wore a flowing white dress, at once simple and majestic. There was no sign of Excalibur, for in these degenerate, post-Tennysonian times the Home Secretary is not allowed to brandish a sword as she defends our coasts.
Today she could only brandish words, but brandish them she did. Her heart is unquestionably in the right place (or the wrong place if you happen to be an immigration lawyer), and so, she suggested, are the hearts of the loyal Conservatives who rose to give her a standing ovation before she could declaim a single word.
A regal smile as she accepted their homage. “Conference it’s good to be back,” she began.
The words may look banal on the page, but she spoke as a monarch who has come among her subjects.
What to say next? The difficulty is that several terrible things have happened recently.
These she could not omit to mention, so she spoke of the murderer of Sarah Everard, “whose name I will not repeat”, as “a monster”, and confirmed that an inquiry will take place.
There was better news on the county lines drug gangs, over a thousand of which have been shut down: “We are cutting the head off the snake and taking down the kingpins behind these deadly supply lines.”
We reached a passage about values, which float in a curiously disembodied way through so many conference speeches:
“Our values embody service before self.
This can be neatly defined by the Hindu word Seva,
which can mean service, commitment and dedication to others.
Ensuring the best interests of our country come first is what drives me each and every day.”
The affinity between the Conservative Party and Hinduism merits further study, but that thought was almost at once drowned by a ringing declaration:
“I will not tolerate so-called ecowarriors, trampling over our way of life and draining police resources.”
This drew more solid applause than almost anything else in the speech. Thank heavens for the ecowarriors. The penalties for disrupting a motorway will be increased.
The Channel presents, undeniably, a stiffer challenge. The Home Secretary spoke of her New Plan for Immigration, which is making its way through Parliament, and declared:
“France is a safe country, one not riven by war or conflict.
There is no reason why any asylum seeker should come to the United Kingdom directly from France.”
Solid applause again. Her good intentions cannot be doubted, and she received a degree of homage from the faithful which suggests she will be hard to exclude from any future leadership contest.
“Fine words,” my neighbour, a party member from Hampshire, said as the standing ovation came to an end, “but the track record on delivery isn’t good.”