I wish Sir Clement Freud were still alive and serving as the Liberal MP for the Isle of Ely or North East Cambridgeshire (for purely stylistic reasons, I prefer the “Isle of Ely” as a constituency name). I’d like also that he was in a position to speak up about the latest expenses scandal which has embroiled the Conservative Party co-chairperson, Baroness Warsi. No doubt he would say something laconic and brilliant; Warsi would be cut to shreds by his rapier wit, a quality which in contrast she noticeably lacks.
I suspect Sir Clement would point out that she had a deficit of common sense as gaping as the hole in the country’s finances; I can imagine the laughs he would get from some well-crafted witticism which would illustrate this fact. The point, no doubt, would be that given the furore over expenses, it behooved everyone in public life to be completely open. After all, faith in politics was severely damaged by the scandal: politicians earn much more than the average worker, what is more, their income comes off of the toil and sweat of millions. Few receive a gilded pension or work in an exclusive Central London location with a subsidised bar. I dare say Sir Clement would suggest that the taxpayers have a right to expect not just honesty, but also the highest standard of ethics, which is separate from the law. One can step up to the edge of the legality but still be way beyond the boundaries of what is right. It is not right that a well-off person shifts the burden of paying for their lodgings onto the state; it’s worse when the well-off individual gets their room for free and pockets the expenses anyway. Sir Clement could point out that he initially paid for many of his researchers with his own money: he placed a bet on himself winning the Isle of Ely by-election in 1973, a 33-1 gamble which paid off handsomely. Why did Warsi, who is by no means destitute, decide to claim for anything in particular: what part of the term “public service” escaped her attention? Did she not see how austerity was affecting the country? What happened to “we’re all in this together”?
I can imagine the soft echoes of “Hear, hear” in response. Conservative MPs would likely be subdued, their faces fixed with a variety of stony expressions. His time to speak at an end, I suspect Sir Clement would sit down and his thoughts might then have turned to lunch, perhaps he’d consider having quick meal down at the Criterion accompanied by a fine claret. Then he’d be off to record another episode of “Just a Minute”; overall, the nation would be a more jolly place if he were still around.
We’re not sufficiently fortunate to have a notable raconteur amongst our parliamentarians; without such an esteemed personage, the words which must be used to describe Warsi’s imbroglio are sharper, less elegant. Quite frankly, she shouldn’t be in her current job. Her career is a marked by a series of mismatches between her station and actual achievement. First, she was a failed parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury in 2005: even though the Conservative Party’s overall electoral performance was far better in 2005 than in the 2001 General Election, she managed to accrue fewer votes than the last Tory who ran for the seat. This should have said something. Nevertheless, Cameron insisted on having her in a leadership position, and thus arranged a peerage; she was made Shadow Communities Minister. He also elevated her to the co-chairperson role with specific responsibility for cities. Veterans of political television programmes are still confused as to why: her answers to pointed questions mostly indicate a lack of intellectual discipline and depth of knowledge. She is also extraordinarily gaffe prone. For example, she once stated she didn’t want to see any further Muslim MPs as “Muslims that go to parliament don’t have any morals or principles”. Additionally, she once stated that supporters of the racist, far-right British National Party had legitimate concerns which should be taken into account.
It is reasonable to suggest that she is as hypocritical as she is incompetent. It has been reported in the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday as well as a number of political websites that the Baroness’ second husband, Iftikhar Azam, obtained a divorce from his first wife Massarat Bi by apparently underhanded means. Ms. Bi, with whom Azam had 4 children, supposedly doesn’t have full command of English; nevertheless, it was reported that she was presented with divorce papers she couldn’t understand. Azam’s brother Ghafar stated Ms. Bi was entirely in the dark about what was going on. Shortly afterwards, Azam went on to marry Warsi; according to the Mail, Ms. Bi was left living with her 4 children in a 2 bedroom house. This episode stands in stark contrast to Warsi’s charitable work for the Savayra Foundation, whose aim is to supposedly empower Pakistani women so they achieve a fair deal out of divorce or bereavement.
So why is she where she is? Why is it that she gets to proceed through the iron gates protecting Downing Street and enter through the heavy black door of Number 10? Why does she get to wander through the corridors of power? How did she get the Prime Minister’s ear and patronage? The precise reasons may never be known, but one can take a reasonably educated guess. Remember: David Cameron’s background is in public relations. This implies that he has a predisposition to be mostly concerned with how things look. I believe that he glanced at the white, Anglo-Saxon and almost exclusively male faces of his immediate colleagues and realised that this didn’t reflect the diverse nation he sought to lead. Baroness Warsi kills several birds with one stone: she’s Asian, Muslim and female! What a symbol of how much the Conservative Party has changed! Therefore, her rise could be due to tokenism; her continued presence in government could be due to what has been termed “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. She is presently Minister without Portfolio, yet somehow her making a hash of nothing is expected.
Illusions only work to a point: the most long lasting are the least obtrusive. The general public has only just woken up to the perils of fractional reserve banking, for example: the image of bankers prior to the credit crunch was of grey suited men who take lunchtime dips into pools of money ala Scrooge McDuck. Mirages disappear the moment genuine scrutiny takes place: the financiers were shown to take gambles that Sir Clement would have abhorred, Warsi’s image as a successful Conservative Asian woman in high office was always made of brittle glass. Thanks to this latest scandal, it has finally shattered as spectacularly as a champagne flute impacting on a stone floor. The fantasies are more than merely dented, they’ve dissipated: order her a cab, it’s time for the Baroness to depart.