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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.