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The strange and murky story of Sayeeda Warsi and her GP

The Tory chairman has been beleagured by story after story. This one's on the more unusual side.

And so it continues. Sayeeda Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, has long been accused of inexperience and incompetence, of being gaffe-prone and “not up to” the job. Now she is accused of corruption, of the unforgivable political sin of fiddling her parliamentary expenses. “Top Tory in expenses scandal: Bar­oness Warsi claimed cash while staying with friend rent-free”, splashed the Sunday Times on 27 May. The bookies William Hill promptly slashed their odds on a Warsi departure from the cabinet to 3-1.

This may not come as a shock to regular readers, but I don’t share Warsi’s political philosophy or ideology; I take a dim view of the economic and social policies pushed by the cabinet of which she is a senior and, so far, loyal member. But I don’t like bullies. The Tory peer has long been a victim of malicious bullying. As I wrote in these pages just a few weeks ago, the attacks on her, from the left and from the right, “have been as vicious as they have been relentless”.

I’ll come to whether or not Warsi is guilty of fiddling her expenses. But first I can’t help noticing the glaring double standard. Why is the baroness being singled out for opprobrium and calls for her resignation? What about other Tory cabinet ministers?

Flipping hell

In May 2009, at the height of the MPs’ expenses scandal, the Daily Telegraph accused Andrew Lansley, Francis Maude, Michael Gove and George Osborne of “flipping” – that is, the shameless and cynical designation of their properties as “second homes” in order to maximise financial benefits from the allowances system, as well as potentially avoid capital gains tax. Gove volunteered to pay back £7,000 in expenses; Osborne was ordered to pay back £1,666 by the parliamentary standards commissioner. Yet all four men continue to sit comfortably in Cameron’s cabinet.

In fact, writing in the Daily Mail in June 2009, the Tory-supporting commentator Peter Oborne castigated David Cameron for his “shameful decision” to “stand by the frauds and cheats inside the shadow cabinet”.

Naturally, two wrongs don’t make a right.

If the Conservative Party chairman is guilty of financial malfeasance, she should be punished. But here’s where it all gets rather murky. For a start, the accusations relate to Warsi’s stay in the west London property of Dr Wafik Mous­tafa, an Egyptian-born GP, back in . . . wait for it . . . 2008. Warsi says she was the guest of a Tory official, Naweed Khan, not Moustafa. Khan was living at the home of the latter and, according to Warsi, received “appropriate” payments from her “for the inconvenience and additional expense to which he was put when I stayed with him”. Khan has since ­issued a statement saying that Warsi did indeed pay him rent. Remember: under the lax expenses regime of 2007/2008, peers were not required to provide or keep receipts.

Then there is the credibility of her accuser. Moustafa is the chairman of the Conservative Arab Network (Can). I can reveal that on 14 May, Warsi wrote to Moustafa reminding him of the party’s refusal to allow Can “affiliated” or “official” status and warning him that he would face “prompt legal action” if he did not “remove the Conservative logo” from his website. (Read the letter on our website:

Less than a fortnight later, Moustafa’s allegations against Warsi appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times. Coincidence?

Senior Tories have long been concerned about Moustafa and Can’s activities. The Conservative MPs Daniel Kawczynski and Conor Burns recently cut their ties with the group. “[Moustafa] was giving off-the-cuff remarks about Britain’s policies in the Middle East, and implying that he was speaking for the Conservative Party,” says a Tory backbencher who has attended Can events in the past. (“From a Conservative perspective . . .” began a question on Sky News to Moustafa, on the Arab spring.)

I asked Moustafa why he continued to refer to Burns as president of Can – despite the latter’s resignation. “His name has been removed from the website,” he replied airily. When I pointed out that it hadn’t (as of 29 May), there was a long pause on the other end of the phone. “Really? I’ll have to check on that.”


How far should we trust Moustafa? His claims seem outlandish. He told the Daily Mail that Warsi “disapproved” of him having bottles of alcohol in his home and threatened to “smash” them. Really? Is this the same Warsi who was pelted with eggs in 2009 after she stood up to a group of Muslim extremists in Luton who had accused her of not being a “practising Muslim”?

Moustafa claimed, in a letter dated 12 April to Andrew Feldman, the Conservative Party co-chairman, that he had donated “over £100,000” to the Tory party over the past two decades, a claim that a Conservative Campaign HQ source denies. Moustafa claimed to have had Warsi’s backing for a peerage application – which was subsequently rejected – but, again, the official at CCHQ says this is untrue and that it is further evidence of his lack of credibility.

“Who are we supposed to believe,” asks my source, “Sayeeda Warsi and Naweed Khan or a man with a clear axe to grind?”

Expenses aside, the bigger question is: how much more disproportionately negative coverage will Warsi be forced to endure? Here is a British Muslim politician whose promotion to the Tory front bench in 2007 was greeted by an odious article on the ConservativeHome website that denounced it as “the wrong signal at a time when Britain is fighting a global war against Islamic terrorism and extremism”.

“She’s a lawyer by training and has a family business to fall back on,” says a friend. “Is this job worth all the grief she gets?” However, I’m told, Warsi has no plans to quit the cabinet.

So, the question is: will Cameron, under pressure over his government’s various U-turns, sack her? Such a move would be a huge error of judgement – especially as Osborne, Gove et al would keep their jobs. At a stroke, the cabinet would lose 20 per cent of its women and 100 per cent of its ethnic minorities. Oh, and did I mention that the Conservative Party chairman is a rare non-millionaire, working-class northerner in a cabinet stuffed with millionaire, middle-class southerners? Would the Prime Minister be so foolish?

Click here to read the letters involved in full.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The royal makeover

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide