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30 June - 06 July , 2012
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LONDON EYE
Why The Prejudice Against Baroness Warsi
by SHAHED SADULLAH
Baroness Warsi
If you happened to be living in the UK and got your daily dosage of news from the national television channels, you would not know that Pakistan is writhing, yet again, in the agonies of a political crisis. The only place where the news has found some coverage, albeit not front page, is in the columns of some of the more thinking publications like the Economist and The Guardian. Other publications have decided to give preference to such monumental issues of global significance like the flight of a solar powered aircraft across Morocco and the greater efficacy of hot water compared to urine in treating jelly fish stings. Part of it is due to the fact that the only significance of Pakistan is with reference to the war against terror but there is also more than just an element of journalistic fatigue in reporting political crises in Pakistan. After all, it is argued, when has Pakistan not been facing a political crises of some description or the other.
But Pakistani expats in Britain, who live physically in Britain but politically in Pakistan, are extremely concerned. The interminable and often infuriating political chat shows, reflecting the same views over and over again, are, as in Pakistan, watched over and over again with the same frustration and form the topic of all discussion and debate. There are few, if any, who would shed any tears on the departure of Mr Gilani from the PM's House and there are equally few who believe that his successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf or whoever else, will make any difference to anybody or anything. Everybody expects the Supreme Court to be on his heels within days of his taking over and no one sees any way that the drama of the past couple of months may be avoided. So there is concern and anxiety all around.
While most British Pakistanis may be agonizing about the situation in Pakistan, the news for the minority silly enough to focus on affairs here in Britain is not particularly good either, with Baroness Saeeda Warsi, the Pakistani origin co-chairperson of the Tory party being referred to the independent adviser on the ministerial code.
Culture Secretary Jeremy HuntLady Warsi is accused of being sloppy in declaring her interests when she took a relative, who was also a business associate, with her on an official trip to Pakistan. While insisting that no commercial gain had resulted from the trip and stressing that none of his costs had been billed to the taxpayer, the baroness has already admitted that she should have disclosed Mr Hussain's status to her officials and the high commission in Islamabad. Separate allegations about her expenses claims are being investigated by the House of Lords standards commission.
In the absence of any further revelations or more serious accusations, this is hardly the most sensational case of alleged ministerial misconduct. By contrast, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, after it emerged that his views on Rupert Murdoch's bid for BskyB were about as neutral as that of Ms Mahreen Anwar Raja on affairs concerning the PPP, finds himself in a pickle the quality of which is in an entirely different league from Lady Warsi's petty (alleged) misdemeanours. And yet, it is Lady Warsi who has been referred and not Mr Hunt.
Commentators have pointed out this discrepancy in no uncertain terms. The main discussion seems to be around the point which of the two deductions following from this staring inconsistency is more worrying: Is it that the Prime Minister Mr Cameron, was truly unable to see how totally absurd this would look or is it that he knew this full well and could not give a toss? Most decisions being made by this Tory-LibDem government suggest the latter for that is a hallmark of the British upper class and secondly because only a certain level of stupidity commands credibility. This falls decidedly into to the incredible zone.
There are reasons for the very different way in which Lady Warsi has been treated. Mr Hunt is white while the baroness is not and Mr Hunt is male which Lady Warsi is not. Mr Hunt belongs to the same privileged background as the Prime Minister and his closest cronies while Lady Warsi is from a working class immigrant background which is at the opposite end of the social spectrum. But there are other, even more worrying reasons. As one commentator has pointed out, the prime minister refers Saeeda Warsi because her case is relatively trivial and she is sacrificeable if that proves necessary. The charges against Mr. Hunt are much more grave and carry the serious potential of landing at his own door given the prime minister's overtly chummy relations with Rebekka Brooks, a leading functionary of the Murdoch empire. The culture secretary's departure at this juncture would bring the ball rolling right down to number 10; Mr Cameron therefore needs Jeremy Hunt to face the music over the BSkyB affair, or else it will be him.
What has made this act of offering Lady Warsi to the political wolves possible is the fact that the baroness has many critics in the party itself, while Jeremy Hunt is an old boys' favourite. Mr Hunt is seen as someone fully promoting the prime minister's agenda; in contrast, Lady Warsi goes against the grain of the Conservative party on more than one issue. She has not been able to put her weight behind Mr Cameron's support for homosexual marriages and has been a fierce critic of the government's anti-terror policy, stating that anti-terrorism legislation had turned Britain into a 'police state'. Her remarks on Islamophobia have also not made Tory elders quite click their heels and dance with joy. All of this has prompted the influential ConservativeHome website to run a statement by the Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom saying that the baroness' presence at the top of the party ranks sends "the wrong signal at a time when Britain is fighting a global war against terrorism and extremism."
To reduce Lady Warsi's case to the vocabulary of modern politics, the neocons in the Tory party are against her and in this party, the neocons have always been in a majority. And that is why the Tories have made so little headway among the ethnic minority communities in Britain. They had taken a step forward with the appointment of baroness Warsi, but if she loses her job following the inquiry, it will be a case of one step forward and three steps back. The question, though, is does the Tory party really care?

 
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