I do not like Baroness Warsi. I think she is shrill, narrow minded and sanctimonious. She exploits her position as the highest ranking ethnic and religious minority woman in government to peddle the lingering Thatcherite myth of self-improvement which is even more ridiculous in this day and age of rising living costs and not being paid to work and her dogmatic and illogical commitment to the party line blinds her to how much devastation her party have wrecked on the working poor with just two years in office.
That said I do not think she deserves witch hunt that she has been engulfed in over the past few weeks.
It has lead to her referral to Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial interests to determine whether she broke the ministerial code by failing to declare the business interests of her friend and relative, Abid Hussain, (which culminated in fresh scrutiny last night for failing to disclose shares in his company, Rupert’s Recipes) who accompanied her on a trip to Pakistan and declaring expenses for paying rent whilst staying at the home of Dr Wafik Moustafa in 2008 who claims he never asked her for money.
The immediate aftermath of Warsi’s referral was the criticism of obvious hypocrisy of it compared to the ongoing support for cultural secretary, Jeremy Hunt and his dubious personal interest in Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB bid that he was overseeing.This hypocrisy lead to a Labour motion in Parliament on Wednesday to go over David Cameron’s head and refer Hunt to ministerial code anyway where the Liberal Democrats were told to abstain and the Conservatives were allegedly whipped so hard that one MP was ordered back from his honeymoon to vote. As a result, the motion failed with a ‘No’ majority of 38 votes.
One rule for Baroness Warsi and another for Jeremy Hunt has lead to allegations of rich, white, male cronyism in the Conservative party. Warsi, a northern, female and Muslim non-millionaire is to have her wrist slapped while Hunt, just one of the two thirds of Cabinet Ministers who are southern, white, millionaire males, gets off seemingly scot free.
As Mehdi Hassan rightly pointed out in his column for the New Statesman last week that Warsi’s infraction of the expenses rules was carried out under the lax expenses regime of 2007-08 which, although it does not excuse it, is no more a betrayal of the public’s trust than all the other MPs exposed by the scandal in 2010. Hunt however, is alleged to have abused a public position for the direct profit of one man at the expense of competition and fairness within the media industry. Therefore, if we were to judge in terms of magnitude of crime, Warsi’s infraction seems comparatively minor.
Whilst it is clearly that there are still elements of the arcane amongst the Tory backbenches who still believe that if Britain brought back hanging they wouldn’t have to worry about criminals, foreigners, women or homosexuals voting (or something to that effect) they are largely ignored by the neo-liberals like David Cameron who are marginally more enlightened. The newer, slightly more practical, and open minded elements of the Conservative party have won and for all the talk of back bench rebellion, Conservative MPs are not going to break ranks with a sitting government because if a snap election was called they may end up with what they perceive as worst (i.e. a Labour government).
The Conservatives have learnt from their years in the wilderness during the beginning of the Blair government and Baroness Warsi’s appointment was, in large part, the equivalent of waving a giant sign saying ‘Look at us! Look at us! We’re not bigoted, we’re modern, we gave the job to a girl‘.
Therefore, I’d wager this indictment of Warsi has little to do with her and everything to do with Hunt and the Leveson Inquiry, George Osbourne’s continued bungling of the economy and the absurd and unfair policy decisions which have lead to scandal after scandal such as the A4e fraud investigation and the recent Jubilee Workfare controversy.
For a government taking over from an unpopular predecessor still in the second year of its reign it is actually quite absurd that it as unpopular as if its about to leave office. First it was David Laws and Liam Fox’s resignations, then came Cameron U-turning so much his head must be in a spin and now Hunt, Cameron and ‘LOLgate’. Dr Wafik Moustafa’s accusation seemingly came out of left field and is alleged by the New Statesman to be a personal vendetta on account of a letter Warsi sent to him asking him to remove the Conservative logo from his non-affiliated website. It is unlikely he was put up to it by Conservative insiders and for all we know he may have a case but Cameron’s decision reflects a clever spin on what should have been another PR disaster for the Conservatives.
By dredging the past mistakes of a non-essential, unpopular but high profile party member with no real ministerial responsibilities they can direct attention away from the real and actual failings of their leadership onto an issue which’s political sell by date passed after the General Election in 2010. Warsi is too much of an asset to lose so she will probably come through this with her position intact and will be rewarded in some secret fashion for taking one for the team.
The hope is that with the attention on Warsi abusing the taxpayer’s money the public and the press will be distracted from the inability of the government to kick start the economy or how close they came to giving away the keys of the media kingdom just because the Culture Secretary had a man crush.
Like most of their policies thus far, it’ll probably fail.