This Tory failure can become the mother of all successes

Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan – so the saying goes. Losing in politics is a particularly lonely place. For many of my parliamentary colleagues who lost seats, they’ve lost not just their job but also the people they worked with everyday who had become like family. Others will feel they have also lost a sense of purpose. It’s why I’ve spent the last few days reaching out to colleagues who are no longer MPs. And while many are rightly personally disappointed, they also acknowledge that too many mistakes were made by the party as a whole. Even if many hardworking, decent individual MPs did not deserve to lose their seats, the Conservative Party certainly did not deserve to win. As the dust settles and the post-election postmortem starts for the party, I hope we don’t rush to blame and instead rush to find answers. The Conservative Party has just suffered a historic defeat. Our numbers in the House of Commons are the smallest we have ever had. For a party that has governed for most of the last century and the present one, this is a difficult place to be. It’s why we need to accept this defeat with contrition and humility. The electorate overwhelmingly have told us that we do not have the answers to the big issues of our time, and we are not the people they want to be running the country. We must therefore start the rebuilding exercise by having a period of quiet contemplation and thoughtful evaluation. Self-reflection must override a desire to blame or a lurch to lead. We need to focus on getting the questions right, not on finding the answers. We need to ask ourselves not just where we went wrong but why we went wrong. We need to ask why we became so factional and fractious, why the wish to lead overrode our duty to serve and why we allowed ourselves to believe that espousing slogans would deliver services. We don’t need policies; we are not getting ready to form a government, but to form an opposition. We don’t need to provide the answers; our answers to the big issues were rejected by the electorate, as were we. And we need to be gracious in defeat – that starts with being a loyal opposition. The country needs a period of calm, stable, dare I say, even boring government. And the opposition needs to support that rather than provide drama. Prime Minister Keir Starmer has started well. A quick appointment of his Cabinet, a Saturday morning Cabinet meeting, a Downing Street press conference and the announcement of an all-nations tour had an air of a new team efficiently getting on with the job. This Cabinet, many from tough and humble beginnings, reflects the values, feel-good factor and belief that this country can offer the opportunities for anyone, irrespective of your start in life, to reach the top. It’s a message of hope much needed after what has felt like a period of entitlement culture. Some key and unexpected appointments like Richard Hermer KC as attorney general, James Timpson as prisons minister and Sir Patrick Vallance as science minister signal a desire to use experts and hopefully a move back to evidence-based policy making. The Conservatives should both welcome this and learn from it. Populist slogans didn’t work for the election, and we shouldn’t cling to them in opposition. We mustn’t oppose everything; we should rightly question, inquire and interrogate the new Government’s decisions but not constantly criticise and take political swipes. The electorate have chosen them, not us; if we seek to do our job, we must start by respecting that very recent and very clear decision. And we must rebuild the party. We need to strengthen our core, the central party HQ needs to be restored and resourced, we need to rebuild our membership and rekindle our relationship with the voluntary party, many of whom have been trampled over during recent candidate selections. We need to recruit administrators and organisers before the bright policy minds. We need to bring back into the fold the colleagues and communities we excluded, marginalised and demonised. We need to build a broad church and reach out to those who still represent us at all levels: town, council and county councillors and members of the Lords. We need to use this defeat and ensure that this failure is the mother of all successes. 07/07/2024

Labour has parked its tanks on the Tories’ lawn

How both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer chose to mark Armed Forces Day on Saturday said a lot about the mood of both camps going into the last week of general election campaigning. As a day to commemorate our armed forces and veterans, it should have been a moment for both leaders to project patriotism and pride. For Sunak this was always going to be tough because it brought to the fore his monumental misjudgement from three weeks ago, when he left the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings early. His absence from a major part of the International D-Day commemorations was a turning point of this election campaign and one from which the Prime Minster has not fully recovered. Sunak thus chose to play it safe on Saturday, meeting veterans at a café in his constituency in Yorkshire. It was illustrative of the Conservatives playing an increasingly defensive campaign with Sunak cutting an ever-lonelier figure and leading a retreat to home ground; talking less of winning and more of preventing a huge Labour majority. Starmer, meanwhile, chose to mark Armed Forces Day in Aldershot, the home of the British Army and a constituency Labour has never won. The parliamentary seat of Aldershot has been held by the Conservatives for over a century so for Starmer to campaign there, with his Shadow Defence Secretary by his side, certainly exuded optimism. It demonstrated a Labour Party on the front foot, working as a team, reaching deep into opposition territory and starting to take ground even on the most Tory of issues. Labour has had a good campaign on defence and security. Announcements on defence spending and support for expanding our nuclear deterrent have been well received by a public often sceptical about Labour’s commitment to defence. When the election was called in May, the Conservative Party polled ahead of Labour on the issue of defence, as they have consistently for years. Yet over the last few weeks, some polls have even put Labour ahead, albeit marginally. Against this backdrop, the last four days of campaigning start today. These last days are all about momentum. For all the noise in political circles, many of the electorate will be tuning in for the first time as they prepare to vote. It’s important they hear a clear and consistent message, and they hear it repeatedly. In 2010, I joined David Cameron on the battle bus as he spent the final 48 hours of the campaign zig-zagging across the country from Northern Ireland to Scotland, through England to Wales, stopping off to meet paramedics working a night shift, staff at an early morning fish market in Grimsby, supermarket workers, bakers, businesspeople and schoolchildren. Eating, sleeping and working on the campaign bus created a sense of urgency and when we ended with the final rally in Bristol, the campaign felt like it had reached a planned and purposeful crescendo. But in the end, elections are won and lost on polling day. The polls have called it for Labour and although that now seems inevitable, the battle for No 10 will be decided when ballots are cast. In 2005, as the Parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury, I remember the overwhelming anxiety as polling day came around. I knew that months of planning, preparing and canvassing would be tested in these final few hours. From final dawn raid leaflet drops to last minute candidate visits, the “get out the vote” strategy in the end must work. Voting intentions win polls; votes in ballot boxes win elections. This has been a long election campaign. Both Sunak and Starmer will be exhausted. And yet this is the moment they must look their most energised and energetic; appear ready to lead a country. So, let me give some last-minute advice that I have accumulated over two decades of campaigning: don’t try anything dramatic, don’t make avoidable mistakes, stick to the message, don’t get complacent, remember you are always “on the record”, stay hydrated, eat well (not Haribo’s and Twix bars), catch what rest and sleep you can, have a strong backroom and front facing team around you and make sure these last few days look packed, focused and fun. As we enter these final days of campaigning, let’s hope Sunak, Starmer and their teams have enough left in the tank, because this is the moment the marathon finally becomes a sprint. 01/07/2024

Who could lead the broken Tories after Sunak?

Conservative party politics is broken. The latest betting scandal engulfing the party has starkly reminded the public of “Partygate” and has once again bought to the fore questions about trust. This once great party of law and order is increasingly seen at best indifferent to law breaking, at worst complicit in it. The inevitable general election defeat may please many, but it worries me for what comes after. Talk of the runners and riders for post-Rishi Sunak leadership is rife. Colleagues have spoken to me about who to align behind and two ex-donors have sought a steer about funding potential leadership campaigns. My single question has been- what do we want to stand for in 2029? That’s the year we will likely go back to the country and ask them to trust us again. Who we see ourselves as in five years’ time should determine who we chose to lead us to take us there. We cannot start dreaming of being back in government until we have dealt with the nightmare of who we became and why the electorate is likely to punish us. Much will depend on who survives the 4 July election. Some of the latest and most depressing polls put many of my colleagues who fancy themselves as a future leader out in the cold. We could be left with a very small pool to choose from and many that will remain unfortunately come with baggage. As a Conservative Party we have made policy mistakes. Most political parties do after a decade and a half in charge. But what has been particularly gut wrenching is how we have damaged our reputation by increasingly appearing arrogant, callous and out of touch. Exuding an air that somehow the rules don’t apply to us. And taking a hammer to our institutions and principles. It breaks my heart. Our country should have been safe in our hands, and we should have been uncompromising in our absolute belief and respect for the rule of law. We vacated the space on law and order, on sound public finances, on delivering public services and on compassionate Conservatism and the Labour Party have been all too happy to step in. Vacating more space in the centre ground of politics is not the answer. A coalition with Reform is not the answer. More of the same or depressingly a more extreme right version of it is not the way forward. Being swallowed up by Farage-ism will simply delay the rebuilding of the party and make the journey more painful. Leadership hopefuls need to think about who they want to lead; a rag tag of ever extreme rabble rousers or a small but steady group who are prepared to put in the hard yards to thoughtfully rebuild our party, one capable of once more running the country. A sensible, moderate, law abiding, one nation party. Individuals accused of being law breakers, sensitive information leakers, holding unauthorised meetings with foreign governments, racists or bullies cannot be the future. Law breaking, playing fast and loose with rules and protocols and a lack of respect for our nation and its institutions has got us here, the next leader cannot be mired in this. The party needs someone with a clean record, a fresh start, a break from the past. Someone brave enough to act in the national interest rather than populist rhetoric. The UK is a very different place to 2010 when we first took power. Years of austerity, stagnating growth and post-Brexit wilderness years have left us divided. Politicians have fed this division in a bid to deflect from dealing with the real and difficult economic challenges facing all communities. Culture wars have been popular because they have appealed to narrow but powerful section of the media and think tank world. But that is not our country. Sunak was booed last Thursday during the leaders Question Time debate in York when he suggested a Conservative government would leave the European Court of Human Rights. He was met with cries of “shame” when he referred to an institution we helped establish, resource and promote as a “foreign court” The country is crying out for optimism and hope and we can play our part post an election defeat by being the loyal opposition. We have a serious job to do, to hold Labour’s feet to the fire, prevent them from the bad behaviour that often follows large majorities. But to hold others accountable we must be led by someone who is beyond reproach. 24/06/2024

Why I am persuading activists not to quit

D-Day commemorations remembered the beginning of the end of the Second World War. Now it may also be remembered as the beginning of the end of the Conservative Party’s general election campaign.


Listening to the shocking stories of Labour Party campaigning over the years I would regularly boast to my Labour friends and colleagues that the Conservative Party was a well-oiled, well-funded and well-run organisation. This week it has appeared less so.


In the run up to the 2010 election I saw up close the policy preparations, the media discipline, the announcements grid, the events diary and the complete commitment. All appear to be missing this time round. 


Most importantly, 2010 was a team effort. Sunak on the other hand has appeared a lonely figure, often appearing alone at campaign events, rarely flanked by any of the big beasts in Cabinet and rarely represented or defended on the airwaves by known names.


This week he was also an absent figure at the D-Day commemorations in France, leaving early and walking into days of bad headlines.


The D-Day commemorations presented an opportunity for the Prime Minister to appear prime ministerial. To be seen to be leading the country rather than just a party. Visuals of him alongside royalty, world leaders, veterans and armed forces was an opportunity to remind the country of who he was and who he could be. And yet, since Thursday, headlines have been about his lack of leadership, criticism of him putting party and politics above country and accusations of being a Prime Minister who simply did not understand the gravitas of this moment.


One of the main strands of the Conservative Party campaign has been about how the nation’s security would be safe in our hands versus a Labour Party who are weak on defence.


It was the argument that Penny Mordaunt made on the BBC’s seven party debate on Friday evening when she challenged Angela Rayner on her voting record on nuclear deterrent. Mordaunt made much of the insecure world we live in and the need for international leaders who threaten us to know they are dealing with people who are serious and committed to our national defence. Instead, the Prime Minister’s lack of judgement has undermined a key pillar of the Conservative campaign.


It has also emboldened the Reform UK Party – already chasing the heels of the Conservative Party in the polls – and their leader Nigel Farage, who cynically questioned whether Sunak was “patriotic” claiming that he did not understand “our culture”. 


It has left candidates furious with one Conservative colleague telling me that No10 are running “a p— take parody election campaign”


Morale is low, many local Conservative associations feel put out at the last-minute imposition of candidates this week as the deadline for nominations closed. A last-minute dash to find safe-ish seats for CCHQ staff, No 10 staffers and special advisors has left a vacuum of trusted and experienced campaigners at the centre.


Many young activists who have done the hard yards for years and have waited patiently on candidates lists to be selected are not even being shortlisted. Some have, through gritted teeth, defended the indefensible, including the Rwanda scheme, and feel they have been used and tossed aside. I have spoken to three young activists in the last 48 hours and urged them not to resign. Female candidates have felt particularly overlooked.


Young activists are avoiding campaign events, not wanting to be tarnished with failure, and now we have rumours of the party putting the brakes on its social media campaign and potentially running out of money. Astonishingly this weekend ministers were having to deny that the PM was on the verge of quitting.


It’s all giving the impression of a party that’s not in control of its campaign, has given up the fight, thrown in the towel and we still have nearly four weeks to go.


This week’s manifesto launch provides a moment to reset, and the PM must grasp that moment.


It seems likely that on 5 July Sunak will not be Prime Minister, it now seems increasingly likely that he will not be leader of the Conservative Party. Sunak is fighting an election, fighting for his own political survival and increasingly, for the survival of a Conservative Party.



Labour is taking the centre right from the Tories

The general election campaign is becoming as much about what the Conservatives and Labour will look like after 4 July as it is about what they stand for today. The Diane Abbott row, followed by a series of deselections and reselections in Labour, have led to accusations that Keir Starmer is leading a “purge” of the left. The treatment of Faiza Shaheen, one of the few Labour candidates in the 2019 general election who managed a substantial swing when she stood in Chingford and Woodford Green, felt like a convenient cull. Some in Labour have argued that the moves are simply about restoring party discipline. As an ex-party chairman, I understand the importance of party discipline, but it is not the same as an unquestioning obedience to an ever-narrowing ideology and one that is increasingly at odds with the long and historic tradition of a party. With Labour’s lead in the polls getting stronger and a big Labour win looking increasingly likely, the party appears to have chosen this moment to re-position itself and set the tone for its priorities in government. Labour seems to be shedding the left and centre left, and now appears to be embracing the right of centre. It’s traditionally our space in the Conservative Party. Yet it’s a space we have sadly increasingly vacated, and Labour is starting to occupy ground that we have ceded. In the run-up to the 2010 election, we had firmly planted our tanks on Labour’s lawn. From devolution to climate change, from big society to international development, from equal marriage to black and minority representation, many issues traditionally seen as concerns of the left became core campaign messages of the Conservative Party. I define myself as a liberal conservative and a centre right politician, but sadly since Brexit, my party has embraced more of the right and less of the centre. It’s not just the centre ground that is there for the taking, it’s the centre right too. Labour, much like the Democrats did in the United States, are increasingly occupying this space. The Conservatives in turn are following the Republicans down the far-right route, and Nigel Farage, much like Donald Trump, is ready to ride the wave of populism. Whilst Reform is officially working at this general election to oust the Conservatives, its honorary president, Farage, is working to become the new Conservatives. In 2006, David Cameron, then newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, referred to Farage’s Ukip Party as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. Farage and his followers had no place in the Conservative Party that formed the coalition government in 2010 and we were not interested in courting them. Despite Farage’s warm words, at the 2019 general election, Boris Johnson rejected an electoral pact. But by 2023, the Farage love-in was in full swing, with senior members of the party dancing and singing along with him at party conference. In 2024, Farage has his eye on a permanent relationship, a marriage which creates a new Conservative Party occupying the right and the far right. This would be a Tory party obsessed with immigration, disingenuous about Brexit and intent on dividing our country by ratcheting up culture wars. Labour must not forsake its roots in the left as it repositions to win, and the Conservatives must not abandon its centre as it prepares to lose. As a liberal centre-right conservative, my politics do not align with the far right and certainly not the hard left. Both extremes need to remain at the fringe of politics and that requires mainstream parties to embrace and build broad based parties in line with their traditions. Sadly, the absence of any meaningful Liberal Democrat challenge has not helped. Ed Davey’s strategy of staying in the news through campaign stunts such as paddle boarding or riding waterslides does not cut it. This approach may be seen as a clever move by some in his team, but I’m afraid it projects as ad hoc interventions to others. Davey says he is selling a serious message but not taking himself very seriously while doing so. He thinks the silliness is allowing their message to be heard and is getting the Liberal Democrats media airtime as a result. I disagree. At a time when the Conservatives are experimenting with the far right and the Labour Party are abandoning its left, this election is a moment for the Liberal Democrats to set out their stall as the new centre. Not through a series of policy announcements, but an overarching ideological ethos. This should include a commitment to building a broad church in the centre ground of politics, accept a wide range of political views, see the value of dissent and understand that internal opposition is healthy for a vibrant party – not something to be crushed as disloyalty. 03/06/2024

Icon Diane Abbott paved the way for politicians like me

Summer 1987 was a blur for the most part. I was sitting my O levels and my parents had high expectations. I come from a generation of Asian kids for whom their families chose their career. I was destined to be a lawyer and I had to make the grade. Growing up as one of five girls and fighting to be heard during political debates around the dinner table, I had developed both the art of using my voice and having an opinion. But our on-screen role models were few. Floella from Playschool, now Baroness Benjamin and Trevor from the news, now Sir Trevor McDonald were a small number of faces that felt familiar. So, in June 1987 when Diane Abbott, a young black woman was elected as the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington I felt seen. This was a woman of colour who was using her voice and had an opinion. Born and raised in Yorkshire I had no idea where Hackney was, but I knew this was a historic moment. I come from a mixed political family, Dad started life as a factory worker and a Labour voter, Mum was a homemaker, hugely aspirational and voted Thatcher. And yet this moment didn’t feel party political, Diane’s win was a win for all people who felt different, whatever their politics and whichever part of the country they lived in. She went onto become one of the most recognised figures in politics, both at home and overseas and with that came plaudits and sadly also a spotlight of hate. In the run up to the 2017 general election she faced a relentless campaign of abuse with an Amnesty International report citing her as being the most targeted female MP. In 2008, as a very young and new parliamentarian, I recall listening to her speech on the defence of civil liberties and against 42 days detention without charge. A speech described by David Davies, the then Shadow Home Secretary, as “one of the finest (he) had heard since being elected to the House of Commons”. I opposed this draconian legislation, as did most of the Conservative Party. Diane led a successful Labour rebellion resulting in Gordon Brown as PM having to abandon the proposals. For me she became a political hero, a warrior who was prepared to stand up for what was right for the country even if it was not right for her party. Her April 2023 letter to The Observer which said “Irish, Jewish and Traveller people… undoubtedly experience prejudice… But they are not all their lives subject to racism,” was not Diane’s finest moment. She recognised her mistake and both withdrew the comments and apologised. Even those that have spent a lifetime fighting for equalities can sometimes get it wrong. My own mistakes on the issue of gay rights is one such example. However, what has followed since then with an opaque and drawn-out disciplinary process has said more about the Labour Party than it has about the issue of racism. Her treatment at the hands of some in the Labour Party has been difficult to watch. Equally uncomfortable was watching her make 46 attempts to stand and not called at Prime Ministers Questions where questions were raised about Tory Donor, Frank Hester’s, comments that she made him “hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”. Hester has since apologised for his comments. These moments have felt cruel and unnecessary. For her future to be uncertain and not knowing whether she would stand at the next general election has appeared gratuitously vindictive. News of her whip being restored was soured by confusing briefings that she had effectively been banned from standing in Hackney at the forthcoming general election. The briefing gave the impression of overzealous and under-qualified silly boys in suits. Starmer has since denied that Abbott has been blocked from standing for Labour. [related-article-inline source=”post” post_id=”2962165″ parent_post_id=”3080291″/] What may have been an attempt to damage Abbott has in fact damaged the Labour Party. If the object of the briefing was to win some Tory leaning votes by feeding the beast of division by targeting a black female MP or if it was a signal that Labour had changed from its Corbyn period past, I can tell you it didn’t work. The Conservative Party has held many firsts when it comes to female and ethnic minority politicians, interestingly far more than Labour. From Prime Ministers to the major offices of state, women and ethnic minorities in the Conservative Party have broken many barriers. Diane Abbott as the first black female MP was a political first Labour should rightly be proud of. They need to be careful not to trash their legacy on equalities. I was the first British Muslim to take a seat in a UK Cabinet. I stood on the shoulders of those that came before me and that includes Diane. She has admirers across the political divide, not necessarily for her politics because but because for so many of us she will always be an iconic figure and the moment that so many of us felt seen. Labour’s attempts to erase her do them no favours. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi is a member of the House of Lords who served as co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party from 2010 to 2012 29/05/2024

My Tory colleagues have no idea what Sunak stands for

Each of the party leaders has launched their general election campaign and I am afraid it doesn’t bode well for my Party. It isn’t Labours 20 point plus lead that concerns me , it isn’t even the dozens and dozens of colleagues who have decided not to stand again and the whiff of desertion that that brings , it isn’t even that some of my colleagues seem less focused on the run up to the general election and more on the post-election Conservative leadership race, for me it is the lack of clarity even at this late stage as to what Sunak stands for. Being drenched in the rain outside Number 10 as D Ream lyrics blared out, the PM called the general election, and this was a moment that could have been used to lay out his vision, instead Sunak was literally and figuratively drowned out. Clinging to Covid as a high point of achievement in a 14-year record of a Conservative Party in charge at a time the Covid inquiry is still ongoing and during a week when the most senior Civil servant is in the dock answering questions about the chaotic government decision making at that time, appeared detached. Speaking about the economy in ways that are simply not being felt by the public felt out of step. Championing lower taxes as an achievement rang hollow. And choosing to pitch the need for stability in Britain against the so called “dangerous world” created by Russia, China, Immigrants, and Islamists as opposed to our role in Brexit, economic Armageddon and culture wars felt arrogant and hypocritical. There is no doubt an incoming government will be inheriting a tough brief both domestically and on the world stage. Early predictions are that the current economic news is the best it will get this year and may have been a trigger for the surprise general election announcement. From Ukraine to Gaza foreign policy demands will not just be about manging current conflicts but positioning ourselves as either a guardian of an international rules-based order or one of the chief architects in its destruction. From the International Court of Justice to the International Criminal Court and indeed even the very fundamentals of the European Convention on Human Rights are all apparently fair game. And with the infected blood scandal, the post office scandal, and the ongoing inquiries on Covid and wider procurement fraud how government functions is under the spotlight. More than ever, we need to know what leaders stand for, the values they are rooted in and the principles that will shape their decisions on the big issues. Sunak starts on the back foot but interestingly because of that has very little to lose. He became Prime Minister by default and has already made his mark on history for simply being the UKs first Prime Minister of colour. He will forever have UK PM as a line on his CV, and his life will play out amongst the world’s great, good and wealthy irrespective of any future Office of State he holds in the United Kingdom. I predict if he loses the election, he will stand down from Parliament soon after. So Sunak should be “bold”, the word he seems to use a lot, distance himself from the rampant racism that has dogged his premiership, step away from the culture wars, acknowledge the Conservative mistakes of the past and lay out what a Sunak government would mean for a country that desperately needs to grow with economic benefits felt across the country. Starmer on the other hand starts with a 20-point lead and has everything to lose, something the Theresa May 2017 general election proved is entirely plausible. I sympathise with what an insider at labour HQ told me a few weeks ago that the biggest challenge to a labour victory at the general election, which at that time was anticipated to be later in the year, was a mindset that labour would lose. The fear of not putting a foot wrong is understandable especially when labour is so close to power but the downside of it is that solid Starmer could feel more like cautious Keir. Voters who up to now have struggled to hear what he stands for may fail to connect. Labour may still win by default, but the country deserves better than default. It needs to vote decisively yes and decisively no for a vision of a future laid out clearly, sincerely and with integrity by the two men who seek to lead us. Anas Sarwar interestingly at Labours general election launch in Scotland said this election Labour would answer – what change means, why it matters, and what difference it will make to your family. I also hope that Starmer and Sunak tell us who they are and what makes them the right men to lead Britain at this time. 27/05/2024

Mail on Sunday: Baroness Warsi: Maypoles, harvest festivals, Christmas carols… it’s time for the minorities to join in

By Simon Walters Whoever chose Baroness Warsi’s study when she was moved to the Foreign Office in the Cabinet reshuffle two months ago must have had a keen sense of history. Of all the rooms they could have given her, they chose one in the part of the FO still known as the old India Office. It was from here that the British ruled India, including the Warsi family’s native Pakistan before it became independent. Her ministerial study is directly opposite the magnificent centrepiece of the India Office, the marble-floored Durbar Court with its three storeys of doric, ionic and corinthian columns. Built when Queen Victoria was on the throne, it was modelled on Indian durbars – courts where native princes held receptions for visiting British dignitaries at the height of the Raj. When I started our interview at the India Office by admiring Durbar Court, Sayeeda Warsi winced at my clunking Estuary English ‘der-baah’ pronunciation of the word. ‘It is drrr-ba,’ she said, lending an exotic musical flourish to the prolonged ‘drrr’ and clipped ‘ba’. I could almost hear sitars in the background. Born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, the second of five daughters of Pakistani immigrants, she had a successful career in the law before being made a Tory peer. She defies all stereotypes. She is as Eastern and refined as the Durbar Court, yet as down-to-earth and homely as Yorkshire pudding. She calls herself a working-class Northern mum, yet sends her children to private school. Her accent is half Pakistani and half Yorkshire, and she is fiercely proud of both. After being appointed Britain’s first woman Muslim Cabinet Minister in 2010, Warsi came close to being humiliated when David Cameron moved her out of her job as Tory chairman in the September reshuffle. Unnamed Conservative MPs ran a whispering campaign against her, claiming she wasn’t up to it and had been given the post only because the Prime Minister was desperate to break up the serried ranks of white and overwhelmingly male Tory faces around the Cabinet table. Even more wounding, it was alleged that her brash successor as chairman, Grant Shapps, ran a successful campaign to grab the post from her. Certainly, she has shed no tears over Shapps’s abrupt fall from grace following bizarre disclosures that he used an alter ego, Michael Green, in a parallel career as a downmarket internet entrepreneur. When I mentioned Shapps’s troubles, a beatific smile spread across her face. ‘He’s had a real baptism of fire, it’s been awful,’ she said, archly. ‘He’s had the grief after a month that I had after a year.’ Ouch. Shapps isn’t the only one to discover how Warsi fights like a tigress. When Cameron asked her to move to a more junior role at the FO, she faced being stripped of her Cabinet place. Warsi had other ideas. She made three demands: a new title, that of Senior Minister of State, adding the ‘senior’ to signal she was Foreign Secretary William Hague’s deputy, at least in name; the retention of her Cabinet seat; and the additional role of Minister for Faith and Communities, Whitehall jargon for Race Relations Minister. She got all three. Only the canniest of politicians get to the top of ethnic politics in Britain. Warsi is no exception. She is barely 5ft tall, yet her warmth and presence more than fill her palatial office, with its towering 30ft ceiling. With Conservative support among black and Asian voters pathetically low, Cameron could hardly risk having a woman – and a Muslim to boot – walking out on him. And which white Tory could possibly tackle thorny issues, such as the grooming of vulnerable young white girls by Pakistani men in Northern towns like Rochdale, with her courage and credibility? £140M A YEAR LOST IN TRANSLATION More than 800,000 schoolchildren – one in eight – do not speak English as their mother tongue. Critics say schools’ resources are being stretched as heads are forced to recruit foreign language assistants to help migrant children. Some 240 different languages are spoken in England’s schools including Punjabi, Baroness Warsi’s native Urdu, Bengali, Somali and Polish. In some schools, more than 50 languages are spoken. Taxpayers foot an annual £140 million bill for translation services, including £64,000 a day in the NHS – a 17 per cent rise since 2007. NHS trusts translate pamphlets into 120 different languages. Many public bodies provide translations but the legal obligation to do so is not clear. The Human Rights Act only requires translations if someone is arrested or charged with a crime, while the Race Relations Act says all parts of the community should have access to services. ‘A small minority of Pakistani, Afghani and Bangladeshi men think Asian women are second-class citizens and white girls are third-class citizens,’ Warsi told me. When we met last week, she had just arrived back from a whirlwind trip to Pakistan in her role as Foreign Office Minister for the region. But we have met to talk about her domestic ministerial role, that of Minister for Faith and the Communities. In a wide-ranging interview on the eve of a speech on integration, she insisted there was no contradiction between being a devout Muslim and celebrating Christmas. ‘Being brought up — before the politically correct brigade got going — on harvest festivals, maypoles, Nativity plays, Christmas carols and the Lord’s Prayer, made me much more sure about my own identity,’ she said. ‘I didn’t feel it was all watered down to the lowest common denominator.’ Baroness Warsi fondly recalled how she and her four sisters persuaded their father, Safdar, and mother, Hafeeza, to celebrate Christmas – mainly as an excuse to get presents from Santa Claus. ‘Our house was small and because Mum and Dad took out the chimney-breast, like everyone was doing in the North in those days, we thought Santa couldn’t come to our house – so my sister left the back door unlocked. ‘He still didn’t arrive! My dad said “We don’t do Christmas,” so one of my sisters said to him, “December 25 is the birthday of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. He is really important.” ’ Warsi bursts into laughter at the memory. ‘We introduced turkey, crackers, hats, a tree and tinsel. It became more and more Christmassy every year.’ Did she do turkey with all the trimmings? ‘I have spiced turkey!’ Warsi loves Christmas carols – her favourite is Good King Wenceslas. And while retaining her Muslim faith, she has continued the Christmas tradition with her own children, especially 14-year-old daughter Aamna. ‘Every Christmas, she just had to be Mary,’ she grins. In her first Christmas as Conservative Party chairman, Warsi was horrified to discover the proposed official chairman’s card had no mention of Christianity – so she binned it and replaced it with a ‘proper traditional card, with Merry Christmas on it’. She added defiantly: ‘It took the confidence of a British Muslim to do that.’ And she wants other ethnic minorities to follow her lead. ‘Why not? White people celebrate Diwali and Eid. And we all enjoy Bonfire Night.’ She is equally determined to make more significant changes to improve integration, including getting rid of classroom assistants used to help children who cannot speak English. And Warsi says the proliferation of multilingual forms available for non-English speakers at hospitals, welfare offices and elsewhere merely encourages people not to bother to learn English and hinders their chances of integrating and getting good jobs. She takes the same no-nonsense approach to other issues, such as drugs. Wary of treading on ethnic toes, Home Secretary Theresa May has not responded to calls to ban the legal plant-based drug khat, which is used mainly by minorities. But not blunt Warsi. ‘I have been pushing the Home Secretary to get on with it. We cannot say, “Because it’s Somalian and Ethiopian boys who take this, it’s part of their recreational activity, hey-ho, we will just let them take it.” We would not legitimise marijuana to please the Rasta community, so why do that with khat?’ Are you listening, Theresa? With only six weeks to go before Christmas, I could not resist asking Warsi if she had drawn up her Christmas card list. Would she be sending one to Grant Shapps – or Michael Green perhaps? ‘I’ll send him a Christmas card addressed to the chairman of the Conservative Party,’ she replied. And the twinkle in her eye could illuminate an entire Christmas tree. SHARING WILL HELP WARM THE MELTING POT By MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT What Baroness Warsi says is brave, creditable and straightforwardly good. Her suggestions would be wise whoever made them, but the fact that a British Muslim of Asian ancestry has said these things is important and heartening. For far too long our official and political classes have, in practice, supported a well-intentioned but disastrous multiculturalism which has encouraged some communities to turn in on themselves. No melting pot can function unless it is heated by the warmth of human contact – above all, by a shared language but also, as Sayeeda Warsi urges, by as much shared culture as possible. The idea that Muslims should celebrate Christmas is a particularly happy one – as it happens, the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary is recorded in the Koran. If we were less embarrassed about our own faith and culture, many of our newer citizens might well find it easier, not harder, to fit in.

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