A new role for Baroness Warsi
Reshuffle speculation hits fever pitch today, and one who has had her future openly questioned more than most is Conservative Party Co-Chair Baroness Warsi. Now, I’m an admirer of Lady Warsi’s. She has, in my view, brought some much needed directness to the Party’s communications machine and has a wealth of talents and assets to recommend her.
But as the Coalition moves towards the endgame the pressure is on for a more independent Chair, someone with more of a base in the Parliamentary Party who will be able to signal more aggressively what a post-Liberal Democrat Government might look like in Tory hands.
So, if needs must and Warsi departs CCHQ, what to do with her? Some have suggested booting her out of the Cabinet altogether. I disagree. Not only is Lady Warsi a remarkable and talented politician but, in an era when the Conservative Party struggles more than ever to resonate in the North and with the working classes, she embodies the kind of plain-spoken Toryism we need.
Others have played fantasy-Cabinet and reshuffled her to International Development (presumably on the presumption that Andrew Mitchell will achieve his ambition of settling in as Chief Whip). You can well see how Lady Warsi could be put to use at DfID, but I think this would be to misuse her talents: wherever she goes next, Lady Warsi should be focused on the UK – serving the dual roles of whatever her brief may be and of the Party’s still-tarnished image.
So I have a suggestion. Let’s put Lady Warsi in charge of the Government Equalities Office. In such a role, she would be responsible for promoting and balancing the ever-more complex and controversial competing needs of minorities. As she said of herself, over the weekend, 'I’m a woman, I’m not white, I’m from an urban area, I’m from the North, I’m working class'. How many senior Tories can say that?
What’s more, on these issues she represents an admirably sensible and, fundamentally, conservative alternative to the current occupant – Lynne Featherstone. It is difficult to imagine Baroness Warsi riding roughshod over the justified concerns of religious communities over difficult and divisive questions such as gay marriage.
Instead, one imagines that Lady Warsi would (as she has done whilst balancing her Islam and her membership of the modernising Cameroons) seek to find means of reconciling, rather than polarising, the differing traditions and needs that exist in modern Britain. What is more, the question of ‘equality’ is more and more also a question of integration. Tolerance of difference is better served by a robust approach to outlining where cultural claims have sway and where, emphatically, they do not.
In her outspoken work on forced marriage and on child grooming, Lady Warsi has demonstrated her absolute commitment to marrying diversity with a shared set of irrefutable values. The role of Equalities Minister is not, currently, a Cabinet post. But by beefing it up to include responsibility for integration and Britishness would surely justify making it an attending-position (as is her current post). If Warsi must be moved, she must not be dropped. Instead, the Prime Minister should put her skills and her assets to use in service of conservatism and the Conservative Party – she should be tasked with reshaping our approach to equality.