Evening Standard Interview: I’ll do whatever it takes to stop Livingstone winning says Baroness Warsi

Published in The Evening Standard, Friday 30th September 2011

By Joe Murphy, Political Editor

As the Tories gather in Manchester tomorrow, Sayeeda Warsi will be reading children’s stories.

More specifically, she will be creating audio books for visually impaired children and bullying her Cabinet colleagues, including David Cameron, to do the same.

“It only takes 15 minutes and for some young kids it’s their only access to stories,” she bubbles in her broad Yorkshire accent.

The audiobook idea is the latest in a string of social action projects under her chairmanship. The party has even produced an app so people can record a story themselves and email it over. “It’s a world first and after the conference we are going to donate the app to charity,” she enthuses, talking 19 to the dozen.

“I’ve told the whole Cabinet to read a book. I don’t know what stories we will read yet. I’m obsessed with social action projects. This charity needs more volunteers and we have 11,000 people coming to our conference.”

There is plenty that is new and refreshing about Baroness Warsi, 40, the first Muslim woman to sit in Cabinet. The daughter of an immigrant Dewsbury mill worker who made a fortune by launching a bed making company, she is a Tory moderniser, yet, like many Asian women, also profoundly traditional in her values.

“Somebody asked me, ‘Have you ever taken illegal drugs?’ and I went, ‘I don’t even smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs. I’m probably the most boring person you can find.'”

From her glass-walled office in Conservative Campaign HQ, where she sips elderflower cordial, she runs an infamous election machine that, as she proudly recalls, won hands down the AV referendum last May. She will do “whatever it takes” to give Boris Johnson a second term as Mayor next year and says the thought of losing to Ken Livingstone in the Olympic and Jubilee year “makes my stomach turn”.

This year’s Tory conference, she reveals, will boast “cutting edge” innovations, like an “app” for downloading speeches and videos; a Dragons’ Den-style business competition; and something called “an interactive wall”.

But there will also be a return to traditional debates. “For the first time in years we are going to have a good old-fashioned open party debate on policy. I want to move away from three people on white bucket chairs.”

The slogan, she revealed, will be Leadership For A Better Future, a theme that acknowledges the tough times but holds out the promise that austerity measures will prove worthwhile.

“My parents said to me the only way to improve yourself and avoid working double shifts like my dad was to work damned hard and pass every exam along the way, not sit in front of the TV.

“My mum used to say, ‘as you sow, so you shall reap’. Actually, she gave us the Asian version, but it’s absolutely true.”

She says her friends are all belt-tightening, buying frozen foods and considering second-hand school uniforms. “These are decisions every family is making. It would be so easy for us to get the [Government’s] chequebook out and not make the tough calls. But ask people if they would prefer to have it easy now or, by taking tough decisions, create a better future for their children, most will instinctively choose to put their children first.”

She accused Ed Miliband of “hypocrisy” for attacking a something-for-nothing society while opposing government reforms like axing legal aid for squatters. “They come in, take something for nothing, abuse fair play, but Labour wants the state to pay them.”

She claimed the Tories are already creating a something-for-something society. “It’s about making sure that it pays you to come off benefits into work, that’s the culture we are creating. Labour are talking this great talk but opposing us.”

Baroness Warsi is kinder to the Lib Dems and predicts that Tories will be focused more on winning the next general election outright than “trashing” their partners in coalition.

She does flatly rule out any form of election pact with Nick Clegg‘s party. “Absolutely. I’m chairman of the Conservative Party and I am doing all I can to make sure we say to the country, ‘give us an outright Conservative majority.'”

Setting a fine example of non-aggression in the meantime, she makes a joke out of Chris Huhne‘s comment which compared her conduct of the AV campaign to that of Nazi propagandist Dr Goebbels.

“When I was young my mum wanted me to be a doctor and I never lived up to her expectations [Warsi became a lawyer]. What I always say is, the Conservatives might have made me a Lady but it took the Liberal Democrats to make me a doctor.”