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Ruling party's rules

A co-chairperson of the British Conservative Party refuses to step down despite having links with extremists and being involved in an expense fraud. Farrukh Dhondy writes.

columns Updated: Jun 21, 2012 21:26 IST

What would happen if India, through its aggressive press, discovered that the president of a political party was the business associate of an activist and recruiting sergeant of the Lashkar-e-Taiba? Please, please! I am not saying that any such fact or connection exists. I am merely constructing an analogy whose dimensions will soon be clear.

Suppose further that this same president travelled abroad on government business accompanied by the (fictional) partner and it was clear that the partner’s elder brother was in fact a leading member of the same Lashkar-e-Taiba. Would the party be able to withstand the shock? Would such a president have to resign from the party?

Fantasy, of course. Yet something analogous is unfolding in Britain. One Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a solicitor of Pakistani origin enlisted in the Conservative Party of Dewsbury, a mill-to-mosque town of Yorkshire with a dominant Pakistani population.

She was adopted as a Conservative Party candidate for parliament in the 2005 election which she lost. Two years later David Cameron became leader and his team was desperate to change the ‘nasty’ image of the Tory Party. Warsi, as is sometimes the practice with failed candidates who the party values, was bestowed the title of Baroness and placed in the House of Lords.

Prime Minister Cameron was desperate to demonstrate that his party included women and ethnic minorities in key positions and that he had the common touch (he went around saying ‘‘call me Dave’’) and was moreover kind to young ‘hoodies’ and to gay people. He appointed Warsi as co-chairperson of the party and made her a minister without portfolio. Her co-chairman was Lord Andrew Feldman.

It now emerges, through investigations by, ironically, the Tory press that Warsi is the business partner of one Abid Hussain in a catering business called Rupert’s Recipes (as yet no one has alleged that the business has any connections to Rupert Murdoch).

This Hussain is a relative of Warsi’s by marriage and has — or had — for some years been an active member of an organisation called Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Hizb is a shadowy international organisation dedicated to establishing a Universal Islamic Caliphate. Its public propaganda conceals a great deal of hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-democracy and homophobia which its members vent from time to time in publications, websites and blogs. These e-praise suicide bombers and terrorists calling them martyrs, they sanction the killing of Jews and Hindus, and issue tirades against western democracy and culture.

Before the general election of 2010, when the Tories came to power in a coalition, they had pledged to ban the Hizb but seem to have shelved the idea.

The group was led in Britain by one Omar Bakri Mohammed who caused a split in it and set up an outfit called Al Muhajiroun, several of whose members have been subsequently convicted of terrorist offences, conspiracies and intentions. Bakri left Britain for Lebanon and has since been declared persona non grata and will not be allowed back into Britain even if he gets out of a Lebanese prison.

This is not the sort of organisation that the business partner of a cabinet member should have any association with. I wonder what Warsi will say about such an association to her Jewish co-chairperson Lord Andrew Feldman.

Warsi’s party has boldly and publicly supported the idea of legislating to allow gay people to marry. Cameron is using this stance and piece of policy to continue decontaminating the ‘nasty’ and backward image of Toryism and recently announced that he is “not promoting gay marriage despite being a Conservative but because (he’s) a Conservative”.

The stance doesn’t square with Warsi’s campaign literature when she stood as the party’s candidate in the 2005 election. The leaflets in that campaign attacked Labour’s legislation, which put the age of consent for gay relationships on a par with those for heterosexual ones. It also propagated the nonsense that homosexuality was being ‘peddled’ to schoolchildren as young as seven.

This guff was aimed at the Dewsbury Muslim community but the election result showed that it wasn’t enough. The pro-business and pro-rich Tories didn’t make much headway in a constituency with high unemployment and no social mobility.

Warsi is also being investigated by a Commissioner for Standards for claiming £2,000 for renting a room in the course of attending parliament in London while actually living there rent-free, according to the landlord of the house. This is, if true classified as expenses fraud and several MPs and members of the House of Lords have been sent to jail for similar crimes.

Lord Taylor or Baron John David Taylor of Warwick, of Jamaican origin, was another Tory peer caught up in expenses fraud. He was, unlike Baroness Warsi (watch this space) convicted and sent to jail for 12 months but released early after serving three and being given some sort of house arrest dispensation instead.

Baron Taylor was another Conservative candidate who failed to get elected and was given a boost into the Lords. With reference to these two cases, the quest of ethnic balance should not begin and end with failed electoral candidates.

Labour has ennobled people with long track records in enthusiasm for Dilip Kumar — such as a Lord Desai (only kidding, Meghnad!)

The enquiries into both the expenses fraud and the closeness to ‘extremist’ elements will take their course.

In a country such as India, George Fernandes, when suspected of accepting bribes after a sting operation, resigned pending investigation. In Britain the rule doesn’t seem to apply to the chairperson of the ruling party. We, British (once you wield a passport, the passport begins to wield you) have no shame.

Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jun 21, 2012 21:24 IST

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