New flavours in the Tory kitchen
Published in The House Magazine, Thursday 8th March
By Paul Waugh and Sam Macrory
Baroness Warsi jokes that if she wasn’t campaigning she’d be cooking for a living, but the very model of a modern Tory chairwoman thrives on confounding cultural expectations
Sayeeda Warsi is in her CCHQ office, pondering what her mother thinks. She may be co-chairman of the Conservative Party, a privy counsellor and the first ever female Muslim cabinet minister, but it seems parental approval of her life choices is not easily won.
“My mum wanted me to be a lawyer and she chose my husband [for an arranged marriage]. And I’m now divorced and remarried, and a politician: so you can read from that what you want,” she says.
Hints of maternal disappointment certainly don’t seem to dampen the bubbly enthusiasm of the woman who has, in many ways, come to embody David Cameron’s modern Tory party.
In at the ground floor with the Cameron project, Baroness Warsi is now not just a minister but also the PM’s anti-Lib Dem and Labour attack dog, his elections field marshal and – increasingly – his personal envoy in key strategic countries overseas.
Crucially, she also tries to combine the modernising message of the Conservatives with a thoroughly traditional approach to the party’s core values and history. Her own small office in Millbank Tower is a microcosm of the mix of old and new. Hung on her wall like an artwork is a heavy black leather briefcase with the forbidding words ‘Chairman of the Conservative Party’ emblazoned on its side. It’s an artefact that reeks of the history of past chairmen such as Norman Tebbit, Rab Butler, Willie Whitelaw and others. But just underneath is a black and white Andrew Parsons portrait of a relaxed Mr Cameron, jacketless and sleeves rolled up, alongside Warsi herself. She jokes that the photo makes it “look like David is going to punch me”.