Adeeba Malik: Warsi was true role model for women in UK politics

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WE hear complaints about politicians for being duplicitous, but when one makes a stand over her clear principles, the knives come out. Why?

One tabloid described the Conservative Party of making a “blunder” hiring a working-class Muslim woman with a broad Yorkshire accent, saying she was only hired as an antidote to David Cameron’s Eton-educated colleagues because she “ticked all the politically-correct boxes”.

The fact Sayeeda Warsi spoke out against her party’s political line over Gaza as “morally indefensible” has been dissed because she is Muslim. Not only that, a woman, who was just there to safeguard the woeful quota of women on the front bench. Oh, and throw in a northern accent, an education at a comprehensive, and a working class upbringing. Let’s examine the real reasons why the knives are out.

Backbench Conservative MP Michael Fabricant said on Twitter that she had “v strong views on Muslim issues, But DC (David Cameron) is right on Gaza”.

Baroness Warsi’s own response revealed the prejudice at work: “When I have views on the economy, I’m a Tory, on the NHS I’m a Tory, but on foreign policy it’s because I’m Muslim!”

If a high-profile white, male speaks out for Gaza – everyone from comedian Russell Brand to Jon Snow of Channel Four News – they’re seen as heroic humanitarians.

Ordinary people have applauded her decision to quit over Gaza, but some of her former colleagues have called her “stupid” to quit. Amid the vitriol she gave a dignified response about parliament’s backbiting that gives politics a bad name. Her defenders have compared the response to playground bullies hitting out at a face that doesn’t fit.

I can only hope the backlash doesn’t turn others away from tackling this culture, but that her integrity and passion inspire more women to enter the political arena and stand by their beliefs.

The fact that “ordinary” people applauded her (on the Twittersphere – the most democratic of arenas) says a lot about the importance of her role. She was ground breaking as the first Muslim woman in Cabinet. Not only that, a Tory politician at the heart of mainstream politics.

She has style; blunt, up-front, feisty, proud of her northern roots and her ethnicity. She showed women from working class families can work their way up. That’s what Cameron knew – she could communicate with a range of people directly – those not normally engaged in politics.

Her seniority in Cabinet was thanks to Cameron’s predecessor Michael Howard who discovered her. Her party both supported and groomed her to have the skills and ability to be involved at a senior level. All mainstream political parties need to do more of that level of engagement with the grossly under-represented swathes of ordinary British people in parliament.

She also represented that most Tory of ideals, embodied by Margaret Thatcher, who rose from being a grocer’s daughter to the first female Prime Minister.

Warsi is the daughter of a mill worker turned bus driver who set up a manufacturing firm that had a £2m turnover by the time he retired. She is the fairytale we want to believe – of a working class girl done good. One who decided to use her good fortune to try to make a difference in British political life – and the world at large – tackling persecution and supporting democracy and women’s rights, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s these qualities that Cameron rightly praised in his letter of response to her resignation. He acknowledged her work on the Government’s integration agenda – building united communities, tackling hate crime, championing Britain’s common heritage.

My work at QED over the years has been to campaign for the integration of minorities, particularly women. Her position is very much in line with our ethos – to engage minorities and campaign for their representation in the mainstream public and political life. I’ve sat on many cabinet advisory bodies on the issue, particularly with the previous government, exploring ways to increase representation of women in politics. Baroness Warsi was an incredible example, and role model, of how we can positively contribute to British society.

I’ve had a number of conversations with her and always found her to be very passionate about British politics and world affairs. At heart she really wanted to make a difference, and she was very proud and honoured to be part of that.

I don’t want to comment on the debates around her resignation – whether it was over Gaza or unhappiness about her inability to progress in government. It’s her choice to resign.

She demonstrated remarkable skills, ability and passion. She was a role model for the under-represented.

Her resignation has left a vacuum. But Sayeeda Warsi has inspired many women – not just Muslim women – to become engaged in politics. For a British Muslim woman to be able to say that about another British Muslim woman is a great thing.

• Adeeba Malik MBE is deputy chief executive of Bradford-based charity QED-UK which works towards a harmonious and cohesive society.