Cathy Newman’s Telegraph interview with Baroness Warsi
For a straight-talking Yorkshirewoman, Sayeeda Warsi has been unusually silent on her demotion in last month’s reshuffle. Until now. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to prise a space in her diary to catch up with her. Now a foreign office minister, Lady Warsi was in New York for the UN general assembly, and if she’s seething with resentment at herdemotion from Conservative chairman – a full cabinet role – to a departmental minister who merely attends cabinet, she’s covering it up pretty well.
“The reshuffle has happened. I am delighted with the job. I mean, God, Cathy, I am at the UN! Who could possibly say that’s not a fantastic job and I am throwing myself into it. When you sit in the General Assembly, and you are literally surrounded by the world, I am hugely privileged to be doing this job. It was a great privilege to serve my party; it’s an even greater privilege to serve my country”, she enthuses.
So far, so good for the sisterhood. It’s almost as if after a whispering campaign against her from the party grassroots and backbench (male) Tory MPs, she’s relieved to have a broader canvas to work on. And despite being formally cleared of cheating on her expenses in July, Lady Warsi has had a torrid summer – having been found to have breached House of Lords rules by failing to register her second home properly.
At the UN she’s assisting the foreign secretary in a campaign to secure justice for victims of rape in warzones. William Hague has promised to use the UK’s G8 presidency to try and get the world’s most powerful nations to help gather evidence and bring the perpetrators to justice.
It’s clearly a noble cause, but it’s not what Lady Warsi said she wanted to be doing. She openly pitched to carry on with her job as chairman, and when David Cameron sent her away with a flea in her ear, she reportedly “stormed off back to Yorkshire in a huff”.
Did she, I asked? “I don’t storm, I don’t do huffing. And I go to Yorkshire every week,” she retorts.
But she can’t quite disguise her disappointment at the fact that men outnumber women in the cabinet five to one. Contrast that with Sweden, Switzerland or France where men and women are at the top table in equal numbers.
“If you look at successive governments…we haven’t managed to achieve parity when it comes to women and men in terms of senior positions. I know David [Cameron] is committed to making that happen…we made huge progress in attracting women to parliament. We just need to make sure we keep on that track, that we do manage to attract good candidates for the next election, that we do manage to see women rising through the ranks,” she says.
Lady Warsi’s allies in Government believe she and others will exert pressure behind the scenes to ensure that the prime minister meets his pledge come the next election: a third of Government posts are occupied by women.
Most of Mr Cameron’s parliamentary colleagues think that’ll be a pretty tall order.
Baroness Jenkin, co-chair of Women2Win, which tries to encourage more women into politics, told me: “Speaking personally, I think this [the reshuffle] was an opportunity to make greater progress towards David Cameron’s 30 per cent target. But there are some great women in the pipeline who I am sure will be in government before the next election.”
Katie Ghose of the campaign group ‘Counting Women In’ says Mr Cameron’s pre-election pledge to have a third of ministerial jobs taken up by women by 2015 is at risk of becoming a broken promise.
One of those “in the pipeline” who many expected to become a minister at the reshuffle isn’t so confident. She wouldn’t go public for fear of incurring the wrath of the party hierarchy, but she told me privately there was “an inherent bias against women” because, in case you ever doubted it, the old boys’ network is still in operation. “Most of us don’t have years in the Conservative Research Department. We don’t have those connections,” she says.
So have women in this government fallen foul of the traditional networking opportunities and contacts enjoyed by their male colleagues, I asked Lady Warsi?
Her answer is revealing, and highlights just how far Tory women have got to go to get on an equal footing with the blokes.
“Women place much more value at the end of a working day. If you have hours then they would rather spend those hours being with family and much more productive work than hanging out in the bars networking. That does have an impact on the way that politics is done. But I think women can find their own ways of networking…that’s beginning to happen.”
Beginning…But not fast enough.
MPs – both male and female – I’ve spoken to suggest that the PM’s failure to promote more women to junior ministerial jobs this time is storing up problems for the future because yet again when the next reshuffle happens there won’t be enough experienced female candidates knocking on the door of cabinet.
The party – under the auspices of its new chairman Grant Shapps – is now under real pressure to ensure a healthy proportion of women at every level. And that starts with candidates.
To give him credit, Brooks Newmark, co-chairman of Women2Win, is prepared to set an informal goal most of his female colleagues shy away from. “I’d like to see at the next election 50 per cent of our seats to have women in them,” he says.
That’s not a target any of the women I spoke to are prepared to endorse. No one wants to be seen as the beneficiary of positive discrimination. But Conservative women are going to have to keep up the pressure on Mr Cameron if they’ve got any hope of getting into government in anywhere near the numbers they deserve.