Mischief, Thou Art Afoot
Baroness Warsi: Irresponsible? (credit: FCO)
What has Baroness Warsi in common with Shakespeare's Mark Antony? Both are practitioners of apophasis — the demagogue's favourite rhetorical device.
Few had heard and even fewer cared about the former Senior Minister of State at the Foreign Office until she resigned last month, accusing the British government of holding a "morally indefensible" position on Gaza. Her own letter of resignation was grammatically indefensible — indeed, almost illiterate. (The Baroness misspells "Britain" and even her favourite word, "Islamophobia".) But it was most notable for a sentence which, though flabby, sounded a menacing note: "However, early evidence from the Home Office and others shows that the fallout of the current conflict and the potential for the crisis in Gaza and our response to it becoming a basis for radicalisation could have consequences for us for years to come." Translated into the Queen's English, this means that the government's failure to condemn Israel is to blame for the fact that young British Muslims may turn into terrorists. From a former Minister of State for Faith and Communities, this is irresponsible stuff.
Ever since her resignation, it has been hard to avoid her interviews, all of them designed to damage the government, the party and the Prime Minister to whom she owed her elevation. The Baroness makes mischievous use of apophasis — a species of irony that implies the opposite of what she says: "I don't hold the fact that someone went to public school against them. I don't hold the fact that they haven't had the breadth of experience that some of us who didn't go to public school have had. I don't hold against them that they haven't had to fight as hard to get the jobs that we have had to fight as hard to get." It may not be Shakespeare, but she knows how to make an Old Etonian wince.
It gets worse, however. Like Brutus and Cassius, the Baroness implies, the Chancellor and the Chief Whip are both honourable men. However: "People like George Osborne and Michael Gove are very, very close to the Israeli leadership . . . I congratulate the Friends of Israel and those who lobby on behalf of Israel, because they are incredibly effective . . . I sincerely hope that how the Tory party raises its funds does not have an impact in relation to its policy in government. The national interest should never be subject to the chequebooks of anybody."
This is apophasis in the service of rabble-rousing. Baroness Warsi is insinuating that the "Israel lobby" has not only co-opted leading ministers but is buying influence. She lends credence to the Islamist conspiracy theory that the foreign policies of the British, US and other governments are controlled by Jewish money.
Baroness Warsi claims that others at the heart of the British government share her views, and she is probably right. Indeed, she implied that William Hague — First Secretary of State, Leader of the House of Commons and former Foreign Secretary — might be among them.