“I will not give way,” Priti Patel declared. The Home Secretary is a specialist in not giving way. No one stands their ground in a manner more impervious to reasonable objection than she does.
She had just declared that “those on the benches opposite are eager to defend the murderers, paedophiles, rapists, thugs and people with no right to be here”.
Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, wished for some reason to respond. Patel took a large number of interventions from other members, but would not let Cooper say a word.
This looked unsporting, even though, as Patel said, “the Honourable Lady will have the chance to speak shortly”.
Cooper might conceivably be the next Leader of the Labour Party. We wanted to see whether she had become any more inspiring since she, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall were trounced by Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership campaign of 2015.
There were no Questions to the Prime Minister today: those do not happen while the Queen’s Speech is being debated, with crime and justice today’s topic.
When Patel sat down, Cooper at last got the chance to show what she could do. She said she had been taking part in Queen’s Speech debates for 25 years, and had never seen a minister so “afraid of taking questions from a shadow cabinet minister”.
What was Patel frightened of, Cooper wondered: “All my questions would have been factual. Maybe that was what she was frightened of.”
And Cooper did then produce some facts which were alarming. Within a year of an offence being reported, no charge has been brought in 93 per cent of robberies, over 98 per cent of rapes and over 99 per cent of fraud.
As one police officer had told Cooper, “It feels like once serious offences are effectively being decriminalised because there are no consequences.”
She reminded the House that soon after becoming Home Secretary, Patel told the criminals, “We are coming after you.”
Cooper continued: “You’d better start running faster because they’re all getting away.”
There can be no doubt that Cooper is on top of her brief. She remarked that she had warned in 2013 about the risk of falling charge rates.
But although she speaks with authority, one cannot say she established, in this speech, a claim to be any more inspiring than she was six years ago when Corbyn swept her aside.