Overrated: Sayeeda Warsi
The rise and fall of a poster girl for integration who now depicts Britain’s Muslims as an oppressed minority
In 1979, when she was eight years old, Sayeeda Warsi and her three sisters were taken by their parents from their Yorkshire home for an extended visit to Pakistan, the adults’ native country, during which the girls missed several months’ schooling. During their absence Sayeeda’s schoolmates in Dewsbury learned joined-up writing. Sayeeda never caught up and, she admits in a new book, “to this day, I still print”. Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Baroness Warsi, as she now is, has never learned joined-up thinking either.
As minister for faith and communities in the Coalition government, she played an active role in promoting the Prevent programme for deradicalising potential Islamist extremists. Prevent is the envy of many other European countries with a disaffected Muslim minority and which have, as a consequence, suffered worse terrorist atrocities than Britain. Now out of office, she seeks to undermine it.
She was a Brexit supporter, then switched late in the day to the Remain campaign, just in time to back the losing horse.
In 2014 she resigned from her post as a Foreign Office minister in protest at the government’s posture on the Israel-Gaza conflict. “I did not resign because of what the Israelis were doing to the Palestinians,” she now writes, “I resigned because of my government’s reaction, or more accurately put inaction, to it.” Work that one out.
Sayeeda Warsi rose to her present eminence without trace, as Malcolm Muggeridge said of David Frost, for which she has David Cameron to thank. Although she now claims Muslims are discriminated against by the white majority, she herself is a poster girl for successful integration. Her father was a penniless immigrant who worked his way from mill work and bus driving to setting up a successful business: the classic immigrant success story. Her mother devoted herself to her daughters’ education. Sayeeda got a law degree at Leeds University; in her final year she was married by arrangement at 19 to her first cousin. She had a daughter but the marriage was not a success. She worked for the Crown Prosecution Service and the Home Office Immigration Department, then set up her own solicitor’s firm in Dewsbury.
After the 9/11 attacks, her life took an unexpected turn. Within a year, she writes in her book, The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain (Allen Lane, £20), she had sold her legal practice amid “a disintegrating marriage” and taken off to Pakistan for what she calls “my very late gap year”.
Back home, she joined the Conservative party largely because she saw it as the party of free enterprise (and remarried, happily). In her sole attempt to gain elective office, she fought Dewsbury in 2005, coming second to Labour’s Shahid Malik, who went on to become community cohesion minister, a post Warsi would later also hold. She may not have found favour with the Dewsbury electors but she had caught Cameron’s eye. One can see why she looked like a prize asset: female, Muslim and Conservative, she ticked all the right boxes for the PR-conscious Tory leader. He made her a life peer in 2007 at the age of 36, and in 2010 co-chairman of the party, alongside his arch-crony Andrew Feldman. In 2012 Cameron moved her into government as a minister in the Foreign Office and for faith and communities, an odd combination of jobs in which she was unlikely to be able to make an impact in either.
Since her resignation in 2014, she has veered to the left and now espouses every fashionable progressive cause. In particular, she has adopted the view that Muslims in Britain are victims—of racism, inequality, unfair press coverage, Islamophobia, you name it. Thus the title of her book, although it is unclear whether she even realises that the phrase was coined by a Conservative prime minister about the striking miners in the 1980s.
In the book, her muddled thinking is much in evidence. For instance, she lambasts critics of the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan during last year’s London mayoral election campaign for mentioning his previous association with various dubious Islamist sympathisers. But Khan, another classic Muslim success story, went on to win the election by a thumping majority and has been able to get on with the job with support from all quarters, proving, one might think, that British voters of whatever racial origin are tolerant and open-minded. But for Warsi, “Right now, for many Muslims, it feels dark, certainly the darkest I’ve ever known it to be.”
More worrying is her support for the newish pressure group Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), now led by a hardline Islamist, Azad Ali, who has supported the killing of British troops by his fellow Muslims (he lost a libel action with newspapers which reported the fact) and who dismissed the recent terror attack on Westminster as “a lone-wolf act”. Warsi’s verdict: “I think it has the potential to achieve real change because not only is it grassroots-funded and run, it is also results-focused.” One dreads to think what those results might be.