I am not on the modernising, Cameroon wing of the Conservative Party and I have never tried to ingratiate myself with the leadership with a view to getting a Minister’s job. It may therefore surprise some to learn that I have a very high opinion of Baroness Warsi – or Sayeeda as she prefers to be called.
A narrative has built up that the Cameroonian wing of the party like Sayeeda but the right wing want her gone. I have never been described as a moderniser. My views put my very clearly on the right of the party. But I believe our Co-Chairman is effective, warm and approachable and we need more like her in government.
A Party Chairman needs to be feisty, hardworking and prepared to fight for what they believe in. Sayeeda is all those things. She’s a brilliant performer on Question Time and she is prepared to speak frankly rather than in acronyms and jargon. I really like that – and I know voters and Party members do too.
Critics say that Sayeeda is unable to do her job effectively because she sits in the House of Lords but the fact that she’s a peer is in many ways an advantage. Without a constituency, she has more time to give to the Party. She’s makes herself accessible, holding regular lunchtime meetings for backbenchers, giving out her phone number and keeping in touch with the party at all levels. I’ve contacted her about issues in the past and found her quick to respond. I wish other members of the Cabinet were as helpful, open and quick to respond as she is.
Sayeeda may have her critics in the Westminster Village but beyond she is popular. I represent the Monmouth constituency. Our local association members are hardened activists. They’ve seen it all before. They’re not fazed by the arrival of a cabinet minister but they were very impressed by Sayeeda when she visited recently.
I’ve grown up seeing Conservative bigwigs arriving with great fanfare. Sayeeda’s approach is very warm and informal. She motivates and inspires people because of her manner. It’s refreshing to see someone jumping out of the car when they arrive with a big grin on their face saying ‘call me Sayeeda’. At a recent event she attended one member of the public, a sometime UKIP supporter, told me he thought Sayeeda was our greatest TV performer and came along especially to meet her.
None of this has anything to do with the fact that she is a woman and from an ethnic minority background. It’s because of who she is – down-to-earth, hardworking, and hands-on. She worked tirelessly during the recent elections, getting out there and representing the party. I am completely opposed to tokenism. You are either good enough to do a job or you’re not – and she has proved she is good enough in her own right.
She’s willing to tackle subjects that others won’t – forced marriage and grooming. These are huge problems which, I know from personal experience, are difficult to tackle without being accused of racism. Sayeeda has grasped the nettle and spoken out forcefully against those who hold unacceptable views about the rights of women.
We need a Chairman who can speak out and – whilst I may sometimes disagree with what she says- I like that fact that Sayeeda is always willing to discuss her position and holds no grudges if some take a different view.
I don’t defend Ministers for the sake of it, or in the hope of advancement. Far from it, after the election I publically expressed my concerns at aspects of party policy and had a “lively” discussion with the Prime Minister about this when we met in a corridor recently.
But I speak as I find. And I have found through many dealings with Sayeeda – as have my colleagues – that she is a hardworking, effective Chairman, and someone of whom our Party should be very proud.