London, Sept. 4: Baroness Sayeeda Warsi , who pleaded with David Cameron that she be allowed to stay Conservative Party co-chairman, has been removed from the high-profile post in the Prime Minister’s first major reshuffle since taking office in May 2010.
But Warsi, 41, who has tried to strengthen Britain’s relations with Pakistan, has been able to convince Cameron that as a Muslim woman, she should not be removed completely from the corridors of power. In fact, she has not come out too badly from today’s changes which are aimed at giving the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government a fresh look ahead of the general election in 2015.
Cameron has given Warsi a new job as senior minister of state at the Foreign Office and a minister for faith & communities. More significantly, she retains the right to attend cabinet meetings, the first Muslim to have this privilege. This means she can still act as a sort of unofficial “Minister for Pakistan” in the heart of the British government.
What influence she has on Foreign Office dealings with India remains to be seen.
The first indication that she had been sacked as Tory Party chairman came from the 41-year-old politician herself. She took to Twitter last night to say it had been a “privilege and an honour to serve my party”. Some felt she had done as much to serve Pakistan, which she visited frequently. She often took along business associates and relatives so that the distinction between the personal and the official became blurred at times.
When Cameron made a speech in Bangalore in 2010 accusing the Pakistani government of looking both ways on terrorism, it was Warsi who repaired relations between London and Islamabad. She got into trouble by appearing to fiddle her expenses when she stayed free with the friend of a friend in London but claimed overnight parliamentary expenses.
But an inquiry found her misdemeanour was relatively minor and she was allowed to keep her job after she made a fulsome apology to Cameron.
She became the country’s first ever Minister to be found guilty of breaching the ministerial code. Sir Alex Allan, the civil servant who headed the inquiry, found her guilty of at least two breaches of the code, though he noted that she had apologised. The first was in relation to a trip to Pakistan where she failed to declare that she was being accompanied by a business partner but Sir Alex found that even if Warsi had declared the relationship it would not have prevented the trip from going ahead. The second was when she invited her business partner (Abid Hussain) to meet Cameron at a 10 Downing Street Eid event.
Warsi’s main problem was that she did not have the confidence of the party faithful. Born into a working class family in Yorkshire, her rise was dizzy. Although she has never won an election, Cameron made her a life peer in 2007, appointed her party chairman in May 2010 and gave her a seat in the cabinet.
Her critics would argue that she has played the Muslim card effectively. She has told Cameron he needs ethnic minority support if he is to win the next election. What she did not make clear, however, that few Pakistanis vote Tory but it is Indian support that helped Cameron win a number of key marginal seats at the last election.
It was also Indian support that probably took Boris Johnson over the top in a close fought mayoral election with his Labour challenger, Ken Livingstone, earlier this summer. In an interview last week with The Daily Telegraph in Tampa, Florida (where she was attending the Republican Party convention), she appeared to demean herself in the opinion of many political commentators by pleading for her job.
“I’m a woman, I’m not white, I’m from an urban area, I’m from the North, I’m working class – I kind of fit the bill,” she said.” All the groups that we’re aiming for are groups that I’m familiar with.”
She said the party needed more votes from people in urban areas and more women. “If you look at the demographics, at where we need to be at the next election, we need more people in the North voting for us, more of what they call here blue collar workers and I call the white working class. We need more people from urban areas voting for us, more people who are not white and more women.”
She added: “I play that back and think, I'm a woman, I'm not white, I’m from an urban area, I’m from the North, I'm working class — I kind of fit the bill. All the groups that we’re aiming for are groups that I’m familiar with. I believe you've got to have the right people in the right job.”
In an hour long meeting with Cameron last night, she indicated her demotion would go down badly with Muslims in Britain and beyond. Immediate comment on her change of job came from Cristina Odone, who writes on faith matters for Catholic newspapers.
“Bye-bye Sayeeda,” Odone began. “The reshuffle has removed the first-ever female Chair of the Tory Party – despite her very undignified pleas to be kept.”
“Sayeeda Warsi was never popular with the rump of the Tory party: she was accused of being strident, and of keeping too low a media profile.” Odone continued. “And although she was cleared of allegations that she wrongly claimed parliamentary expenses, her reputation never totally recovered.”
Odone warned: “No one should write off Lady Warsi. She is a feisty politician, who dares take on the macho culture that characterises so many Conservatives but also so many Muslims. When Asian gangs were revealed to be grooming young white girls, it was Warsi who challenged her community to clean up their act. She was no less fearless when it came to challenging liberal hypocrisy: anti-Muslim prejudice was acceptable at dinner parties, she once said.”
Odone added: “Warsi ticks every box the Tories need to tick: Northerner, modest background,
minority, female. No wonder David Cameron gave in to the temptation to promote her way beyond her
capabilities. In the right place, this woman can still impress. Watch this space.”In other changes announced today, Andrew Mitchell will become the new chief whip — he leaves his post as secretary of state for international development to replace Patrick McLoughlin in the key enforcer role for a Tory party that has become increasingly rebellious. Cameron promoted Chris Grayling to justice secretary, replacing veteran Ken Clarke, who had been criticised as too soft.
But the former chancellor denied that being moved to minister without portfolio, where he is expected to advise on the economy, was an humiliation. The 72-year-old Tory “big beast” told reporters: “Being offered a job in the cabinet at my age? Don’t be so daft. It’s rather a privilege, I think.”
But a decision to remove Justine Greening from the transport brief was immediately criticised by London mayor Boris Johnson, who accused Cameron of shifting her because she opposed building a third runway at Heathrow airport. Praising Greening as a “first rate transport secretary”, Johnson said: “There can be only one reason to move her — and that is to expand Heathrow airport.... Now it is clear that the government wants to ditch its promises and send yet more planes over central London.”
Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson — a strong supporter of fox-hunting — was switched to the environment brief. Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove have held on to the key roles of work and pensions and education.
Jeremy Hunt was also rewarded after a successful Olympics, being shifted from culture to become health secretary, despite controversy over his handling of the BSkyB takeover bid.
Maria Miller had one of the biggest promotions, becoming culture secretary after previously serving as minister for the disabled. Theresa Villiers, formerly transport minister, was appointed Northern Ireland secretary.
Casualties of the changes included Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan and environment secretary Caroline Spelman. Andrew Lansley’s move from health to Leader of the House will be seen as a demotion.
All the Liberal Democrats’ cabinet ministers kept their jobs, and there is a return for David Laws, who becomes education minister more than two years after he resigned over an expenses scandal.
The jobs of the Chancellor (George Osborne), home secretary (Theresa May) and foreign secretary (William Hague) remain unchanged.