In an interview with WCRC Leaders Asia, Priti Patel, Member of Parliament for Witham, UK, shares her view on politics, policy and gender power
It was May 6, 2010, when you became an MP. How has the journey been?
As the first ever MP for Witham, I have made it my business to bring Witham to Westminster and represent my constituents’ issues, concerns and successes in Parliament. I am regularly raising the issues affecting individuals, families and businesses in my constituency. Since 2010, I have taken part in over 150 parliamentary debates and have asked thousands of questions to raise diverse local issues.
At a national level, I have been a champion of small businesses and in particular small shops as I chair the All Party Parliamentary Group for Small Shops. Our community is well represented in the small shops sector and as I have personal family experience in this field, I was keen to ensure that their voices were heard in Parliament and in policy making.
I also co-chair the All Party Group for Victims, which is a voice for the victims of crime. I have been a long standing advocate of greater support for the victims of crime and in 2011, I proposed a Victims Bill in Parliament.
I have pursued securing a better deal for Britain as a member of the European Union. I have been a campaigner for a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union and we now have a government that is fully committed to giving the British electorate a vote on this issue. As a fiscally responsible Conservative, I am a vocal advocate of ensuring value for money for hardworking British taxpayers.
I am an elected member of the Conservative Party Board and have been appointed by the Prime Minister to the Downing Street Policy Board and more recently in November 2014, I was appointed as the UK’s first Indian Diaspora Champion – a special appointment by the Prime Minister to advance UK-India relations.
How did you join politics? What were the difficulties?
I have been an active member of theConservative Party for approximately 25 years. I started from the grassroots when my local MP encouraged me to join the party. At that time, Margaret Thatcher was our Prime Minister and I immensely admired her. My interest in politics was a direct result of growing up during the Thatcher years. She introduced changes to make Britain a competitive nation again.
Following my studies at the University of Keele and the University of Essex, I briefly went on to work for William Hague, MP, when he was Leader of the Opposition. I learnt a great deal from William during that time and although I was not considering a political career at that time, I saw firsthand what the realities of public and political life were. I then went on to work in business for over a decade before I decided to give it a go. In the 2005 elections, I was the candidate from Nottingham North, and I lost. Just over a year later, I was selected as the Conservative candidate in the newly created parliamentary constituency of Witham, in Essex. I was elected with a margin of 15,196.
There are many challenges and there are difficult times but I am a persistent, focussed and hard-working individual. My journey has not just tested my own character and determination but also those of my family.
You are particularly interested in business, trade and ensuring that the businesses flourish. Tell us more about your political beliefs.
The only political leader ever to have understood small businesses was Margaret Thatcher and she transformed the UK’s small business environment. She understood the value of small businesses both for our wider economy and also for the empowerment of the people.
Around 99 per cent of the UK’s 4.8 million firms are SMEs, employing less than 250 people and 96 per cent are micro-businesses with less than 10 employees. Throughout our high streets, villages and industrial estates, these firms form the backbone of our economy. Their total turnover is around £1.5 trillion, which almost matches the turnover of large enterprises with more than 250 employees. Small businesses that employ less than 50 people provide the Treasury with an estimated £45 billion through PAYE (income tax and employee and employer national insurance contributions) and more than £11 billion in corporation tax.
The employment and wealth they create are the lifeline of so many communities. Two out of every three jobs are in SMEs and in certain places, the numbers are much higher.
Our government has created a positive environment for doing business by cutting corporation tax, reducing the burden on employers by cutting national insurance contributions and by increasing the export finance capacity to £50 billion. We have also scrapped 3,000 regulations affecting small businesses and we have taken radical steps to transform our diplomatic activities to place trade at the centre of our interactions with other countries. The Prime Minister has led numerous international trade delegations to raise awareness in key emerging markets of the benefits of strengthening trading ties with the UK. As a result, trade with emerging markets is on the up and the remarkable difference between the performance of this government and the last Labour government is clear. Since 2010, for example, exports to China have increased by 91 per cent and to Russia by 118 per cent. It is no coincidence that the improvement in export performance has happened under the leadership of a Conservative Prime Minister.
India has been witnessing a rise in sexual abuse of women. What according to you are the changes required in the political and societal structures to make India a safer place for women?
Violence against women is an appalling act and one that should stop and be universally condemned. It is despicable that in the 21st century so many medieval practices and attitudes remain. And it is appalling that time and again people turn a blind eye and a culture of shame and secrecy is perpetuated. That is why ending violence against women and girls should be a priority for any government. I would urge the Indian government to ensure that action is taken to stamp out violence against women. International Women’s Day (IWD) is vital as it forces people across the planet to focus on issues like this.
What is your success mantra?
Politics is about public service and putting people first. All politicians should remember why they are in the role and that they are elected to represent the public.
The world observed IWD on March 8. As a woman achiever, what special message do you want to convey to our readers?
I have been brought up on the values of family cohesion, hard work, loyalty to your country, support your community. I say to all young girls that in this day and age, you are able to achieve so much more than previous generations could. Never hold the view that we live in a man’s world. History shows that the strongest and most successful women were all fearless.