One gaffe too many for Warsi?

Tory chairman under pressure after lashing out at party’s right wing.

After a bad night for the Conservatives, the Tory chairman, Sayeeda Warsi, has further antagonised party activists with her comments this morning. In an interview on the Today programme, she said:

As far as the right wing of our party are concerned, I would say this to them: We had many, many MPs turning up. We had some who made much comment about the fact that we weren't fighting a strong enough campaign but, interestingly, didn't turn up to campaign. I would say to those who are critical, unless you were here, unless you were out delivering and unless you were out knocking on doors, you really don't have a right to complain about us not being vigorous enough.

It was always going to be difficult for Warsi to put a positive gloss on the result. If she concedes that the party ran a half-hearted campaign, Tory MPs can legitimately attack the leadership for going easy on the Lib Dems. If she maintains that the party ran a strong campaign, the Tories' poor performance is even less excusable.

But it's her decision to single out the "right wing" of the party for criticism that has angered the grass roots and party officials today. The Spectator's James Forsyth quotes a Tory press adviser as saying: "You can't put her on the radio. She's just a disaster waiting to happen."

As the press adviser suggests, this is far from Warsi's first gaffe. Last year, in an interview with my colleague Mehdi Hasan, she made the remarkable claim that electoral fraud within "the Asian community" cost the Tories three seats at the general election. But her complaint appeared less credible after she refused to name the seats in question. On another occasion, Warsi bizarrely suggested that she didn't want to see more Muslim MPs because "Muslims that go to parliament don't have any morals or principles".

Even before today, Warsi was far from adored by Tory activists, many of whom resent being lectured by an unelected peer. Her position doesn't appear to be under threat but it's safe to say the party will think twice before fielding Warsi on a bad news day again.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

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