Is Sayeeda Warsi's time up?

Influential Tories call for party co-chair to move.

In July, the Conservative Party co-chairman Sayeeda Warsi was cleared of any wrongdoing in her expenses claims by the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards. Although David Cameron reiterated his support for Warsi at the time, he did, as my colleague George Eaton noted, leave himself the option of moving her in a September reshuffle.

Whispers that a reshuffle is imminent persist, which is presumably why Warsi makes a pre-emptive case for remaining in post in an interview with the Daily Telegraph today. She said: “If I genuinely had a choice, I would like to stay doing what I’m doing. 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. 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.”

That logic doesn't cut much ice with Paul Goodman of Conservative Home, the website is that is as reliable an indicator of Tory grassroots (and backbench, for that matter) opinion as there is. Goodman writes: "If this thinking is pushed to its exteme, it follows that only working class people can make a political case to other working class people, only Muslims can do so to other Muslims and so on."  Warsi's "segregationist logic", he argues, "eats its own tail: under it, the Baroness would be steered away from Hindu voters, for example."

Strong stuff. And another reason, Goodman thinks, for giving Warsi a different job (though he's quick to insist that the other co-chairman, Andrew Feldman, ought to go too). He argues that the Tories ought to return to the practice of the past, where the party chairman was usually a "big beast" from the Commons front bench - he mentions Kenneth Baker, Chris Patten and Norman Tebbitt. His choice would be William Hague; his ConHome colleague Tim Montgomerie prefers Michael Gove.

Either way, September could be an eventful month for the Conservatives.

Sayeeda Warsi addressing last year's Conservative Party conference (Photo: Getty Images)

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.