Is Cameron's support for Warsi on the wane?

The Prime Minister utters the deadly words: "questions to answer".

David Cameron's declaration that Sayeeda Warsi has "questions to answer" is some indication of No 10's waning support for the Conservative co-chairman (recently profiled by Mehdi Hasan). Contrast that with the Prime Minister's fulsome backing of Jeremy Hunt, whom Cameron said had given "a good account" of himself to the Leveson inquiry.

There are now three strands to the allegations against Warsi: the first relating to reports that she claimed expenses while staying with the Tory official Naweed Khan rent-free, the second to claims that she did not declare a business interest to the House of Lords and the third to allegations that she misused her position as co-chairman to take foreign trips at taxpayers' expense (17 in the past two years).

Warsi's allies have provided a plausible response to the latter charge. The Independent reports that the trips, which included Pakistan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia, were explicitly authorised by Cameron and William Hague. One senior Conservative (note the absence of on-the-record support) tells the paper:

The idea that somehow Warsi has been travelling the world for fun at the taxpayer expense is simply rubbish. Part of her job when appointed was to be a government envoy to that part of the world. Everything is signed off by William and the PM, and to suggest otherwise is just nonsense.

In response to allegations by the Sunday Telegraph that she did not declare her directorship and majority shareholding in a spice company, Rupert’s Recipes, Warsi said: "My shareholdings and, before becoming a minister, directorships have at all material times been disclosed as required on the register of Lords' interests and to the Cabinet Office and on the register of ministerial interests."

But Warsi has failed to close down the initial line of inquiry over her expenses. Notwithstanding the dubious credibility of her accuser, Dr Wafik Moustafa (see Mehdi's column in this week's magazine), she remains the subject of a House of Lords investigation and Labour MP Karl Turner has now written to the City of London police requesting that they open an investigation into whether Warsi broke the law.

He wrote in his letter:

Baroness Warsi reportedly claimed parliamentary expenses of up to £165.50 per night for overnight accommodation while she was staying rent-free in a house belonging to Dr Wafik Moustafa in 2008, along with her political aide Naweed Khan.

Dr Moustafa has said that he never charged Mr Khan or Baroness Warsi rent, and that neither Mr Khan nor Baroness Warsi ever paid him for staying in his house. It appears that Baroness Warsi may have claimed for expenses which she did not in fact incur, and that a criminal offence may therefore have been committed. I am writing to ask that an inquiry be undertaken into whether Baroness Warsi or her aide Naweed Khan have broken the law.

The final problem for Warsi is the distinct lack of affection for her in the Conservative Party. Cameron has faced persistent calls to replace her with Michael Fallon, the Tories' deputy chairman and attack-dog-in-chief, or housing minister Grant Shapps, both viewed as superior media performers. ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomerie, for instance, has written:

Cameron also needs to reinvigorate his team. He should begin with getting a half decent Party Chairman. In tough times like these you'd normally see the Chairman all over the TV, defending the leader and lambasting Labour. Where's Sayeeda Warsi? She's been completely invisible. I asked CCHQ where she was. Is she ill? Is she out of the country? No, she's preparing for party conference which is still three months away. Pathetic. She needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

Under unprecedented pressure from his MPs over the Tories' diminished fortunes, Cameron now has an opportunity to do just that. It would be surprising if he weren't tempted to take it.

Chairman of the Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi could face a police investigation over her expenses. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.