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14 January 2011

One gaffe too many for Warsi?

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

By George Eaton

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.”

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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”.

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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.