Lady Warsi - Role model or a slice of corrupt South Asian politics?

Why Lady Warsi should step down immediately from her position as Tory Party co-Chairman

Lady Warsi in Pakistan with David Cameron
Ghaffar Hussain
On 7 June 2012 10:36

This past week featured a steady drip feed of embarrassing revelations about the personal conduct of Conservative Party co-Chairman, Sayeeda Warsi. These revelations, which could not have come at a worse time for David Cameron, include:

- Claims that she was living rent-free at a property in West Acton whilst claiming the maximum of £165.50 a night on expenses;

- Failure to declare rental income from a flat she owns in West London;

- Failure to declare her 60 percent stake in Rupert’s Spices;

- Taking a business partner and relative of her husband, Abid Hussain, on official foreign trips to Pakistan in 2008 and 2010.

With reference to the first allegation, Lady Warsi has claimed that she made appropriate payments to the occupant of the property, in which she spent a few nights a week in 2008, Naveed Khan. However, the landlord of the property, Tory donor Wafiq Mustafa, claims not to have received any money. If Naveed Khan did receive the money then he could vindicate himself, and her, by making his tax returns for that year public. If he doesn’t, then the insinuation that he simply let her stay with him whilst she pocketed tax-payers money will begin to look credible.

Naveed Khan, who initially failed to get elected as an MP for the Tories and subsequently worked as a campaign manager for the party, also happens to be Lady Warsi’s special advisor. One can’t help wondering whether or not Naveed Khan’s hospitality for Lady Warsi paved the way for his subsequent appointment.

Abid Hussain and Lady Warsi are partners in a company called Rupert’s Spices. Abid Hussain is a former leading member of Hizb ut Tahrir and acted as a key recruiter and propagandist for the groups in the late 90s. It is rumoured that he still has strong sympathies for the organisation, which the Tories in opposition wanted to ban, and his elder brother, Nawaz Khan, is still a leading member. As well as an official government trip to Pakistan in 2010, Abid also accompanied Lady Warsi on a trip in 2008 which included a private discussion with Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousaf Reza Gilani.

Lady Warsi has held her hands up on this one and gone on to state that Abid did not benefit from the trip to Pakistan in business terms. However, this misses the far more pertinent point.  A man with strong connections to an organisation that is seeking to overthrow the Pakistani regime in order to establish a theocratic dictatorship was introduced to senior British and Pakistani officials by a member of the House of Lords. Abid’s elder brother, Nawaz, is still active for Hizb ut Tahrir in Pakistan, where it is illegal, and used to be their official spokesperson.

Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Abid was security cleared prior to rubbing shoulders with senior political players in London and Islamabad and he was introduced in Pakistan as a former advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, a claim that is clearly false. Lady Warsi was either helping to further the cause of radical Islamists or is just too credulous to be entrusted with any kind of responsibility. I am more inclined towards the latter of these two explanations.

Lady Warsi’s initial inclusion in the cabinet was viewed as a triumph by some observers. Many in the Asian and Muslim communities saw her as a role model and her appointment as a manifestation of the decades long struggle for a more socially mobile and inclusive Britain. However, I wasn’t amongst the optimists from the very start.  The fact that she was such a political lightweight with no real value to add to British politics didn’t seem congruent with her all to frequent media appearances. Were the Tories really that desperate to appear inclusive and reformed? I, therefore, interpreted her appointment as mere tokenism – an attempt to add some colour and spice to an otherwise white, male and upper-class dominated cabinet.

She could have perhaps allowed the more popular impression of her to gain ground but it seems her ego and political naivety got the better of her. Despite being unelected, in fact twice rejected by the people of Dewsbury, and not having a track record of serious political activism, she decided to use her new found fame to make a series of bold public speeches that sought to address vexatious issues. These inadequate and poorly written speeches were often way off the mark and, in most cases, met with shock by the Tory faithful.

Then, in a PR move from hell, she decided to align herself with the atrocious, inarticulate and equally politically illiterate Lord Nazir. Luckily for all of us, Lord Nazir has now been thoroughly discredited and is generally ignored, he also attempted to use an unelected position as a platform to spout nonsensical public statements about a range of issues that he didn’t understand entirely.

What unites people like Lady Warsi and Lord Nazir, and makes them both targets for ridicule, is not just the fact that they are both unelected buffoons who regularly over-step their brief, but the fact that they bring a slice of corrupt South Asian politics to the UK.

This is a form of politics in which ideology, values and convictions take second place and individuals engage purely in order to pursue ego-centric agendas. This is not solely confined to South Asian politics of course, but nevertheless is a prevalent trend across the region and seems reflected in the actions of Baroness Warsi.

The grand but ultimately meaningless speeches, the all too frequent foreign trips and the ingratiation that you wouldn’t expect from a Tory co-Chairman. The need to be photographed, to be seen alongside the PM in the media and heard on the radio is all too apparent.  Some have even referred to her as the ‘Minister for the Today Programme’.

This is a form of politics that is unfortunately all too familiar for one that follows political developments in South Asia. It is also difficult to countenance because it breeds mistrust in politics in general and is impelled by little more than a desire to achieve material and reputational enhancement.

Despite the fact that Lady Warsi is more than capable of bringing herself into disrepute, according to a number of reliable sources, there is a campaign within the Tory party to oust her. Though some commentators have claimed that this campaign is driven by a degree of racism, sexism or 'Islamophobia' inherent within the party, it is far more likely to be driven by mere embarrassment and an acknowledgement that David Cameron picked the wrong person to add some token 'colour and spice'.

During a meeting of the 1922 committee in March of this year, Lady Warsi was strongly criticised by a number of Tory MPs for her handling of Roger Helmer MEP’s defection to UKIP. After the meeting, one MP remarked “I just thought she was out of her depth. I have never seen anything like it - other than the last time she was before the 1922. I genuinely think she is the worst chairman we have ever had." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Cameron has referred the matter to his advisor on the ministerial code and she has already referred allegations to the Lords Commissioner for Standards, Paul Kernaghan. Early indications are that the PM will stand by her, not wanting to embarrass himself in the wake of the Andy Coulson fiasco and at a time when another close aide, Jeremy Hunt, in under serious pressure. This, however, would be the wrong decision.  

She should step down immediately pending the findings of investigations into her conduct. However, even if her name is cleared, and I don’t see how it can be, I think Tory HQ should seriously consider the consequences of appointing one so incompetent and self-absorbed to a senior position ever again. 

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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