An Interview With Lady Sayeeda Warsi on the Conservative Party

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imgres-16This is how Lady Warsi announced her resignation from her position in the government this morning. For many this was a brave and morally-correct decision to make. For others, it was a self-indulgent move. According to sources close to Iain Dale, a presenter on the radio station LBC, Lady Warsi wanted to leave during David Cameron’s recent cabinet reshuffle, but was encouraged to stay by the prime minister. The government’s refusal to condemn Israel could have been the last straw.

Lady Warsi’s decision shows that she put her principles above her job. (The fact she would often wear traditional Asian clothes shows she was not in the job to fit in and be like everyone else, but to do what she believed was right). This raises some important questions, especially for journalists. Is the primary job of a journalist to tell the truth or to be impartial? According to the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, he was accused by John Pilger of being a “weasel, a disgrace to journalism – because I [Bowen] was trying to report impartially [about Gaza].” If, as a journalist, you see that one side in a conflict is clearly an aggressor, should you say it? Or should you just report on what is happening and let your audience decide? It’s a tough question – but perhaps that is what opinion and comment pieces are for, not news reporting.

Last year, I interviewed Lady Warsi about her government and whether ethnic minority and female figures are missing in mainstream politics.

I recently went to the Youth Parliament debate at the House of Commons and, surprisingly, almost 50% of the young politicians were non-white, there were also many females, too. Why do you think so many non-white, young politicians are emerging?

It’s great that so many people from different backgrounds are coming to the fore in politics. It’s about time too. Politics is about representing your country. So our politicians must be representative of Britain. I believe that young people are seeing what’s happening in politics, with more and more BME leaders, and thinking ‘I could do that’. I want to see a Parliament that represents modern Britain, so this is really promising news about the politicians of the future.

Do you feel it is easier for a non-white person to become a politician now than ever before in our country?

I do: look at my own party, the Conservative Party. At the General Election in 2010, we increased our number of MPs from black and ethnic minorities from two to 11. I want our party to do more. That was one of my missions as party chairman: I wanted people to look at the modern Conservative Party and say ‘yes; that’s a place for me’.

How have you overcome not just being a woman politician, but also an Asian, Muslim one, too? And how much of an obstacle has this been in your political career?

It’s an interesting question. When I stood as a Parliamentary candidate in my home town of Dewsbury in 2005, I was the first Muslim woman standing as a Conservative candidate. I didn’t win. And I always said afterwards that I was too brown for some people – those who would not vote for an Asian – and too female for others – those who thought it was wrong that a woman was running for office. That said, being female, Asian and Muslim – none of these are hindrances. That’s who I am: I bring all my experiences and background to the table.

Why do you feel the Tory party struggle to gain non-white voters?

The biggest driver of people not voting Conservative is not being white. It’s a big problem. It’s partly a brand problem – people think that our party is not their natural home. The fact is our party needs to do more. We need to get out of Westminster and show the country who we really are what we are really about. More and more people are realising that their values – of hard work, fairness, responsibility – are the values of this party. We need to spread that message.

Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote, believes there is an “unconscious racism” that still plays a part in the political system, making it harder for Black and Asian politicians to break through. Is this something you agree with?

I think we need to do more, especially political parties. The door doesn’t just need to be open; we need to walk outside and invite people in.

Finally, how far off do you believe Britain is from having a non-white prime minister?

The first Jewish prime minister was Conservative; the first female prime minister was Conservative. I believe the first non-white prime minister will be a Conservative – and I don’t think we’re too far off.


(This interview was originally conducted for Live Magazine.)

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