There is a pervasive narrative in a large part of the Left that the Conservative Party is racist – one exploited by Labour, its main political opponent, at every opportunity. The truth is the other way round. It is now Labour that is corrupted by institutional racism in the form of anti-semitism – so much so that even its present leadership has had to concede an enquiry into it.
However, this fact doesn’t fit the Left’s attempt to delegitimise its enemy, so any claim of racism by Tories must duly be puffed by the Guardian and, I’m afraid, the BBC (at least by some of its outlets for much of the time). Depending on who makes the accusation, it can also ensure that nothing gets in the way of a good story – or the projection of one, at any rate.
This brings us to Sayeeda Warsi. First, the facts. Warsi has indeed been a supporter of Brexit, and claims to the contrary are simply wrong. However, she has not been an active one, let alone involved in the official Leave campaign. “Baroness Warsi…declined to comment on the tone of the referendum campaign,” the Yorkshire Post reported recently. “However, the peer…did confirm that she was supporting Britain’s exit from the European Union.”
She says that she has changed her mind partly because of UKIP’s notorious poster about immigration, and partly because in her view Michael Gove has been peddling “complete lies”. That’s her opinion and she has every right to hold it, and every right too to change her mind. But it is worth pausing for a moment over her singling-out of the Justice Secretary.
Like the security services, the police, the civil service and other political parties, the Conservatives were divided, first in opposition and then in government, by whether or not policy should seek to target violent extremism alone, or extremist ideology too. At one of the spectrum were Warsi and Dominic Grieve; at the other, Gove and Pauline Neville-Jones. I was part of the debate pre-2010, as a member of the Tory front-bench team (and took the latter view).
The Justice Secretary’s means of expressing his view are particularly combative, his support for Israel especially clear-cut, and his internal influence – in this particular debate – has been profound and perhaps decisive. For what it’s worth, I do not go along with all the Gove Worldview myself, distinguishing between his take on domestic policy, which I think is correct, and his stance on foreign policy, which is highly interventionist (a view of which I am suspicious).
At any rate, none of all this has exactly endeared the Justice Secretary to Warsi, which helps to explain why she singles him out among the other Vote Leave leaders. Some will say that for the Times to splash on her view on her view is disproportionate. Since she was once entitled to attend Cabinet, I think that this is arguable either way. But what does strike me as particularly odd was the original headline.
As tweeted out among the first editions yesterday evening, it was “Brexit camp in turmoil as leading Tory defects”. But why should Vote Leave be cast into turmoil by the change of mind of someone whose role has been marginal? I see it has now been changed online to “Brexit camp divided as senior Tory walks out”. Again, I am not sure how one person changing her mind divides “the Brexit camp”. That she has left it leaves it less divided, surely.
But let us step back from this journalistic arcana, and look at the broader picture. Not so long ago, Warsi was a senior member of the Government, with all its publicity resources at her disposal. Now, she is a backbencher in the Lords. What she says is consequently of less interest to the media unless one circumstances applies – namely, that she is attacking fellow Tories.
To which you may reply that Gove and company are only one part of the Conservative Party – the Leave-backing bit – and that the wasn’t assailing the other part. Quite so. But this is beside the point I am making, which is that she will only get a big publicity bang now if she criticises other Tories of one kind or another. This was proven recently when she got another publicity hit for lambasting the Conservative Mayoral campaign in London.
So there you have it. Some will agree with Warsi about the Vote Leave campaign and the Party’s London Mayoral campaign. Others will disagree. For myself, I think that some Leave supporters have hyped up the Turkey problem, but that it is none the less a very real one for Britain. But either way, we know, if we didn’t before, how the media now casts Warsi in the drama of Westminster politics. If she wants to get on the stage, she knows the role she must play.