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Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

Position: Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio

Last Updated: Friday, July 30th, 2010

Title: Baroness Warsi of Dewsbury.  Aged 39, member of the House of Lords and first woman Muslim Cabinet Minister.  She’s unpaid in that role.

Duties: Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio.

Background: Warsi is the daughter of a Pakistan-born businessman who began work in Britain as a mill worker and is now a millionaire, running his own bed-making company.  She studied law and qualified as a Solicitor, fighting her home seat of Dewsbury in 2005.  She was also talent-spotted by Michael Howard, the then Conservative leader, who appointed her as a community relations adviser.  After she failed to win Dewsbury, David Cameron appointed her as a Party Vice-Chairman, and she was soon elevated to the House of Lords, and appointed almost simultaneously to the Shadow Cabinet with responsibility for Community Cohesion.  Her remit was later broadened to include social action.

Role: Warsi isn’t the sole Chairman of the Party.  She shares the responsibilities with Andrew Feldman, the co-Chairman and a personal friend of David Cameron’s.  To some degree the arrangement echoes the appointment of Liam Fox and Maurice Saatchi as co-Chairman of the Party by Michael Howard.  Warsi fronts the operation, and bangs the drum for Government and Party.  Feldman runs the Party on a day to day basis, and makes important strategic and financial decisions.  This arrangement fuels suspicion that Number Ten sees her main function as being to appeal to liberal, Muslim and minority ethnic voters.  She’s also working regularly in the crowded Cabinet Office (five other senior Ministers are to be found there regularly) on “The Big Society” – a continuation of her work in Opposition on social action.

Characteristics: Energetic, persuasive and blunt, Warsi has strong views on the need for integration and what she sees as the reactionary views of some Muslim men.  She was sceptical about the previous Government’s Prevent anti-terrorism strategy.  Her plain speaking has sometimes caused controversy: she’s on record as describing insurgents in Kashmir as “freedom fighters”, was excoriated by Stonewall for suggesting that one Labour reform put schoolchildren at risk from gay people, and once described BNP voters as having “some very legitimate views”.  She made a well-publicised visit to the Sudan to in response to the imprisonment there of Gillian Gibbons, a teacher who’d been imprisoned for allowing her class to name a teddy bear “Mohammed”: Gibbons was released in its aftermath.

Future: Warsi is highly valued by Number 10 as part of the Conservatives’ new look, and especially as a media performer.  She was held to have performed particularly well as a panellist on the BBC edition of Question Time that included Nick Griffin.  She would certainly like to hold a Cabinet seat and manage a department at the same time.  However, it’s hard to imagine her serving as, say, Communities Secretary or as Home Secretary – her biggest long-term interest has been immigration control and integration – given her status as a member of the Lords, not the Commons.  But further Cabinet jobs, working as number two in a department could be created for her.  A move to the Foreign Office, which would make her Britain’s first Muslim Minister in that department,  is a possibility.

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