UK Politics

Baroness Warsi: Falling or being pushed?

I’m not a great fan of Baroness Warsi. Although she has complained about Islamophobia she was happy enough to use alarmist homophobic literature in her 2005 campaign. And I wrote about my disagreement with her speech about militant secularism here.

But the reporting of recent new stories about various failings to do with expenses and other matters does raise some questions I think.  Some of the criticisms raised don’t seem, on closer investigation, to amount to anything so very scandalous.  Although at first glance, it seemed that she was being straightforwardly deceitful in claiming £165.00 while staying in a room which cost considerably less, in fact the £165.00 is apparently a blanket subsistence rate, and claimants are allowed to choose for themselves, without providing receipts, how much of that amount to spend on accommodation.

The stories relating to her occasional overnight stays at a friend’s house seem, to me, similarly flimsy.  Much has been made of the fact that she didn’t pay anything to the owner of the house (someone who seems to have a personal axe to grind with Warsi) only to the tenant, but if this is a problem it seems a pretty technical one, an oversight rather than a case of dishonesty.  If she handed over all the money she claimed, then this doesn’t seem so terribly sleazy.

Similarly her failure to disclose rent from a property she owns in London does not seem to have been deliberate, or to have stemmed from a genuine wish to deceive or profit:

“Due to an oversight, for which I take full responsibility, the flat was not included on the Register of Lords’ Interests when its value and the rent received came to exceed the thresholds for disclosure,” she said.

“When the discrepancy became apparent this week, I immediately informed the Registrar of Lords’ Interests of its omission. I repeat: at all times my ownership of the flat and the fact that it was being let out was fully disclosed to Cabinet Office officials and HM Revenue and Customs, and was appropriately reported on the register of Ministers’ interests held by the Government.”

Even though the latest allegations about Baroness Warsi seem – and perhaps are – more substantive, I find myself wondering whether she is being subjected to disproportionate scrutiny.  It is always difficult to evaluate a story, an item of information, taken out of context. So – did she use poor judgement in failing to declare briefly (I believe) holding a large number of shares in a spice company? Probably – but the Telegraph headline ‘Tory Peer Baroness Warsi and her secret business’ perhaps implies some rather more sensational revelations.

Another point which is difficult to evaluate is the allegation that her business partner, and companion on a trip to Pakistan, Abid Hussain, has been associated with Hizb ut Tahrir.  He claims he hasn’t.  It seems a little hard to believe Warsi wouldn’t have avoided the association if she was aware of such a link.  I have found it difficult to track down more information about this Hizb connection – so I’d be interested to hear if anyone else can substantiate this.

The Telegraph goes on to assert sternly that:

Lady Warsi has been on 17 foreign trips while in office, even though her role as party chairman is to foster relations with grassroots members.

But – were these trips not approved by the Government, perhaps because, even though they seem outside the remit of her official role, the fact she is a Muslim might sometimes help her promote British interests in Muslim countries?

Another thing which I find interesting about these reports is the silence from the Islamophobia watchers.  You would think this story would be something they could really get their teeth into.  Under a picture of Warsi wearing uncharacteristic hijab in the Independent, the first commenter accuses her of trying to go for the Muslim sympathy vote, even though the photo was apparently taken while she was visiting a mosque in Indonesia. (Elsewhere on the internet bigotry is more openly on display, and the identity of the MEP – scroll down to second comment here – who made a complaint to the police about Warsi will come as no great surprise.)

Perhaps a clue to this comparative silence from full-time Islamophobia spotters is given by a recent post on MPACUK who make it clear that they didn’t like her response to the Rochdale case – she claimed that some Pakistani men saw white girls as fair game for sexual abuse.

Finally, although there’s much more I’d like to know about various aspects of these stories, and I am not trying to excuse any wrongdoing by Warsi, I think it’s worth noting the contrast between Cameron’s attitude to Jeremy Hunt and his treatment of Warsi – he has now ordered an inquiry as to whether she breached the ministerial code by her trips to Pakistan with Abid Hussain.

Lucy Lips add

I’m glad Sarah has raised this subject. It looks very much as if Warsi has been the subject of a knife-job. The view among the “Islamophobia watchers” is clearly that, because Warsi is a Tory, she should be allowed to dangle.

Here’s the section on Abid Hussain:

The background of Mr Hussain in Rupert’s Recipes is also likely to prove controversial. The Sunday Telegraph has uncovered details of his past involvement with the radical Islamic group Hizb ut Tahrir.

He was a prominent member of the group set up in Britain by Omar Bakri Muhammad, the radical preacher. It is unclear when he left the organisation. Lady Warsi said: “I am not aware of any involvement between Abid Hussain and Hizb ut Tahrir, and no such relationship has ever been suggested previously.”

It is true that Abid Hussain was active in Hizb ut Tahrir. He was a “shab” – i.e. a ‘student’ – in Hizb ut Tahrir for a number of years. This was during the Omar Bakri Mohammed period: before the movement split into a number of factions, including the Al Qaeda-aligned Al Muhajiroun. His brother,  Nawaz Hussain, was spokesman for Hizb ut Tahrir for a while in Pakistan.

The story is broadly accurate – The Telegraph can defend the description of Hussain as a “prominent member” of Hizb ut Tahrir: although he occupied no leadership position.

If Baroness Warsi did not know about Abid Hussain’s extremist politics, then she has been played for a fool. Anybody who remembers Warsi’s fight with Al Muhajiroun types will know that she’s no fan of that organisation. It is quite possible that the truth was kept from her.

However, that in itself tells you something about Baroness Warsi’s somewhat lackadaisical approach to Islamist extremism. I understand, for example, that Baroness Warsi was of the view that the banned hate preacher, Zakir Naik should have been allowed into this country. You’ll remember also the fuss that she made over attending the hate preacher showcasing Global Peace and Unity Conference. She also cherishes a very odd friendship with Lord Ahmed, whose closeness to extremists and Islamist political activists has been extensively chronicled by Harry’s Place.

I would add, as a footnote, that David Cameron’s Munich Speech appears to be something of a dead letter these days. I’m aware of a number of the worst hate preachers being admitted to the United Kingdom recently – including Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer and Nabil Al-Awadhi – without let or hindrance from the Government.

UPDATE

I had missed the main article on Abid Hussain.

As pointed out in the comments below, his job is giving out public money from Tower Hamlets council to “community groups”.

[H]is day job is as the £60,000-a-year “third sector and external funding manager” at Tower Hamlets council, overseeing grants to community groups.

That’s the real scandal here. A man with a background in the Muslim equivalent to Combat 18, in a local authority which has a substantial extremism problem. Who is he giving money to?

The fact that he is a pal of a senior Tory is a symptom of the problem – these guys can’t be challenged, let alone removed.

There’s also this:

Last year another former member, Shiraz Maher, now a senior research fellow at King’s College London, wrote: “Abid Hussain and [other named individuals] were all on the national executive when I became the first senior member to resign in 2005.”

That’s taken from a Spittoon article here. A HuTter in the comments suggests that he was not – there’s then some discussion as to the true level of his seniority.

It really is hugely unimpressive.

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