Mary Kelly: As a Marxist, I certainly wouldn't accept an invitation to join the Lords

I don't believe it serves the cause of feminism in any way to defend women as appalling as Priti Patel when they occupy one of the top posts in government but show they are not equipped for the job

British Home Secretary Priti Patel was defended by Tory party colleague and former Northern Ireland secretary of state Theresa Villiers on Radio 4's Today programme earlier this week
Mary Kelly

HOW sisterly of Theresa Villiers to rush to the defence of Home Secretary Priti Patel following a weekend of media headlines variously saying her staff felt she was a bully and MI5 didn’t trust her with important intelligence.

Ms Villiers, who was only beaten to the title of worst Northern Ireland secretary ever by the even more impressively dumb Karen Bradley, told Radio 4 she was sick of malicious briefing against prominent women like Patel which she said was misogynist.

Well, Teasie, you’re so wrong. Ms Patel has a priti unsavoury record. She was sacked as international development secretary over trying to do unauthorised side deals with Israel. She’s in favour of the death penalty, despite well-known miscarriages of justice like the Birmingham Six and the Maguire Seven. And remember she suggested starving the Irish to get their support over Brexit?

She also sounds a bit thick on occasion, like when she didn’t know that terrorism and counter terrorism were not the same thing.

And the criticism is not because she is a woman. I seem to recall the previous home secretaries Amber Rudd and Theresa May were also female. I don’t believe it serves the cause of feminism in any way to defend women as appalling as Priti Patel when they occupy one of the top posts in government but show they are not equipped for the job.

And lest I am accused of sexism, Owen Paterson also figures in the worst SoS list. Karen Bradley still wins by a mile though.

* * *

I WAS on Radio Ulster’s Talkback earlier in the week to talk about the future of the House of Lords. It followed newspaper headlines about the costs of this glorified care home for retired politicians which has now risen by 29 per cent to £23 million.

Peers voted themselves a rise, taking their daily attendance payment to £323. And they get this even if they don’t make any contribution via debates, written questions or committee membership. They are also good at claiming generous expenses.

I was on the programme with Lord Kilclooney who harrumphed that my opposition was typical of someone from a nationalist newspaper.

I think the Lords performed a useful role during the Brexit debacle but the second chamber should be slimmed down from its current 800 to no more than 100 members. His Lordship thought it needed four times that many and he said they contributed experience, expertise as well as impartiality since they don’t need to be elected.

It’s arguable that an elected second chamber in a two-party system will inevitably mean party domination by one side or the other, like when the US senate’s republican majority voted against removing the impeached Donald Trump. But reform of the Lords, stuffed with political cronies, party donors and other jobsworths, is long overdue.

William Crawley asked would I accept a peerage myself, Baroness Kelly, perhaps? Kilclooney interrupted to say there’d been good nationalist peers like the late Gerry Fitt and now Margaret Ritchie. I don’t know why any Irish nationalist wants to take ermine, but I wouldn’t accept the title because I don’t think journalists should.

As a Marxist, I believe Groucho was right. I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member.

* * *

IT’S the last day of February and commiserations to any leap-year babies who only get a birthday every four years. I celebrated mine last week, though as the years advance, I’m not sure celebrate is the word.

My eldest son blamed his late card on the confusion that surrounds the actual date. For the first ten years of my life I marked it on February 22, until I had to get a birth certificate ahead of the 11-plus and discovered it was the 21st.

Outraged, as birthdays count when you’re that age, I confronted my mother who reminded me that it had been a difficult home birth with emergency assistance required.

“It was around midnight, and I wasn’t looking at my watch at the time,” she said, not unreasonably.

Birthdays were clearly not a big deal in our house, as one of my brothers also celebrated his on the wrong day for years. My in-laws were equally casual. My husband’s mum said she celebrated his birthday together with his younger sisters. Granted, the girls were twins and their mid-January birthday was the day before his. But no, she said she threw in her other daughter’s birthday too... "In February?” I protested. “It’s near enough,” came the reply.

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