In June 2009, Hazel Blears resigned from Gordon Brown’s government, while accessorising with a smirk and a brooch that read “Rocking the Boat”. It was an iconic image of Brown’s troubles with his own team, summing up the series of abortive plots against him.
Last night, Sayeeda Warsi performed an unexpected Blears tribute act, posing on ITV’s The Agenda with a mocked up headline reading “Number 10 takes Eton Mess off the table”.
Nominally, the justification was that she agrees with Michael Gove that the state education system needs to improve in order to give every child better opportunities – a mealy-mouthed explanation of a far simpler act. As Tim Montgomerie put it:
“Con ministers are highlighting one of PM’s key weakness (Eton thing) in media interviews. Are they a. plotting, b. too honest, c. stupid?”
It’s always possible, of course, that all three may be true – that this is an instance of a plotter stupidly exploiting something which is honestly a political weakness.
That said, I suspect this isn’t a co-ordinated part of the recent spate of battles over Cameron’s successor.
For a start, Warsi is not well known as a Gove cheerleader. In fact she has long disagreed with him over just about everything – particularly his neoconservative views on foreign policy.
Similarly, she has never been part of the group on the Conservative benches who are personal opponents of the Prime Minister – deploying Dorries-style “posh boy” criticisms against him.
So why fuel further headlines about class war the day before the Budget? It isn’t as though she is standing for election and needs to woo voters, which would at least offer desperate self-preservation as a motive for such unhelpful behaviour.
It seems instead to be a question of a bad reaction to mismanagement by Number 10.
Baroness Warsi is in a tricky position – she has always sought to be the official Conservative voice speaking to ethnic minority voters, and Muslims in particular, but she also wants wider and more senior responsibility in Government.
She has railed against the way in which her appointment was allowed to be interpreted as “tokenistic” (a remark that coincidentally brought to mind another of Brown’s tormenters – Caroline Flint, who accused him of using female ministers as “window dressing”), and is evidently frustrated by the lack of any advancement on the front bench.
In the sense that her career expectations and the outcome haven’t matched up, some of the blame for that mismatch must lie at Number 10’s door – but this is no way for Warsi to go about solving the situation.
Even Hazel Blears could tell her that: she swiftly conceded her brooch stunt was “a stupid thing to do”.