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09 - 15 June , 2012
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LONDON EYE
BaronessWarsi's Political Career Under
Threat

by SHAHED SADULLAH
BaronessWarsi's Political Career Under Threat
Icons of the Muslim community in the UK have made a rather unfortunate habit of coming tumbling down sooner or later, with their alleged involvement in some unsavoury activity. Such a fall from grace has usually been made worse by the fact that the said unsavoury activity is generally of a petty nature. Grand larcenies, as practiced by politicians in Pakistan, have an element of grandeur about them as the phrase itself suggests, but there is nothing grand about fiddling expenses. That most unwelcome bug of alleged involvement in some unsavoury activity now appears to have caught up with Baroness Saeeda Warsi, the Tory Party Chairperson and the first Muslim lady to hold a cabinet post in the UK.
The allegation is that Baroness Warsi claimed around £2000 for overnight accommodation to attend the House of Lords in London while, it is said, she actually stayed with a friend without paying any rent. The friend in question is one Mr Naweed Khan who has since ended up as the Baroness' personal adviser. She reportedly stayed at his place around a dozen times over a six-week period and claims to have made an "appropriate financial payment equivalent to what I was paying at the time in hotel costs". She has vehemently denied any suggestion that she made any sort of financial profit out of the transaction.
The plot, however, thickens somewhat with the revelation that the property was actually owned by an Egyptian doctor by the name of Dr Wafik Moustafa, a Tory party supporter and fund raiser, who has said that both Naweed Khan and Baroness Warsi stayed in the flat under an informal arrangement, that at no time was any rent discussed and at no time was any payment made to him. He has further confirmed that they were also not required to pay any utility bills or council tax which in any case would not have come to anywhere near the sum being mentioned. The GP in fact, went to the extent of saying that he was "disgusted" that Lady Warsi had claimed taxpayers' money when he had simply being helping out two party members by offering his free hospitality. And he pointed out with what appears to be considerable justification: "It was not Mr Khan who had invited her to stay: it was me, so why would she pay him?"
Naweed Khan meanwhile has said that the Baroness did pay him the sums she says she paid although it is not known if there is any record of the payments said to have been made. Naweed Khan said: "I BaronessWarsi's Political Career Under Threatconfirm she made a financial payment on each occasion, which compensated for the inconvenience caused and additional costs incurred by me as a result of her being there."
Offhand, it is not easy to imagine what sort of "inconvenience" could have merited a payment of such a sum of money, working out to approximately £165 for each day of "inconvenience". In fact, it is said that overall, Lady Warsi's expense claim stretch to 74 nights of accommodation taken at a total cost of over £12,000. Indeed, if the payment was equal to the sum that would have been paid to a decent hotel, it is not immediately clear why Lady Warsi would not have chosen to stay at a hotel and instead with a friend. The opposition, of course, is not going to let such a political full toss go unpunished. Labour MP John Mann has said he would be asking the Lords commissioner for standards to investigate. He said: "If you are paying no rent where you are staying you can't possibly be claiming subsistence for staying there. It all seems very murky. We need a full investigation into the matter."
The revelations follow a dispute between Lady Warsi and Dr Wafik Moustafa. Dr Moustafa was said to be upset when the Conservative Arab Network, which he founded, was told earlier this year to sever its links with the party and was subsequently threatened with legal action by Lady Warsi.
Nor is this quite everything. In a further embarrassment for Lady Warsi, a Cameron loyalist who backs cuts to housing benefit for struggling families, she was forced to admit she failed to declare thousands of pounds in rent from a flat she owned in North West London.
She said the omission was due to an "oversight" adding that she had reported the letting of her Wembley flat in the Register of Ministers' Interests.
For the moment, Downing Street has expressed full confidence in the Baroness and that is pretty much standard procedure whenever a scandal hits the press. If, however, it comes to the point that the police become involved – and calls have already been for a police investigation – then it could become a very different story. MPs and the media have not been slow to compare the disclosures with the case of Lord Hanningfield, the Tory peer who was jailed last year for claiming overnight expenses to stay in London when he was not in the capital.
Perhaps the only silver lining in all this for Lady Warsi is that her case has been relegated to the media backburner, the spotlight firmly being held by the Leveson inquiry into media ethics which is fast turning into an inquiry on the relations between the media and politicians and looks increasingly likely to claim at least one ministerial scalp – and perhaps even land up on Mr Cameron's front door. But that is a matter juicy enough to merit a separate column.
All this is such a pity because Baroness Warsi is a self made woman and one who gave the Tories a great deal of credibility especially among the ethnic minority communities with whom they have never been very popular. She could be described as the flag carrier of their 'one nation' idea – that all of Britain is one nation irrespective of colour or creed or class – having studied in a comprehensive school and been brought up in a working class home. It is said her father came to the UK with barely five pounds in his pocket from which he built up a huge bed manufacturing business. She herself quit her £130,000 pounds a year solicitor's job to take up the post of vice chairperson of the Tory party in 2004 and was appointed a peer in 2007, at the age of only 36. That is a tremendous record of achievement and it is a shame that it could all be on the line for something really quite petty.

 
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