Quilliam Political Liaison Officer Jonathan Russell reacts to the news of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation from government and assesses the reasons behind her decision.
Sayeeda Warsi has today resigned from the coalition cabinet, in which she held senior roles in both the Foreign Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government, claiming that she can “no longer support government policy on Gaza”.
If we can put to one side the other possible reasons for her resignation – such as her being overlooked for more senior positions in the recent reshuffle or her anticipated demotion at future reshuffles – and take her error-strewn statement at face value, we are left with a principled political resignation grounded in foreign policy grievances.
Alongside Warsi’s FCO role, in which she was responsible for portfolios including Pakistan, the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and Human Rights, she was senior minister of state for Faith and Communities in DCLG and, crucially, responsible for developing a strategy to tackle extremism.
This strategy was first promised three years ago, following the government’s separation of counter-extremism and counter-terrorism policy.
We are yet to hear anything substantial or of merit.
While David Cameron is very strong on the need to challenge non-violent Islamist extremism as a social ill (its relationship with terrorism notwithstanding), it is clear from Warsi’s inaction that she isn’t in the least bit concerned with it.
Warsi claimed in her resignation letter that the current crisis in Gaza and the British government’s response to it is becoming a basis for radicalisation. I would agree that extremist manipulation of foreign policy grievances, of which Gaza is a prime example, is one key element in radicalisation.
However, the Baroness is being naïve (or perhaps nefarious) in suggesting that it is the only element.
Interestingly, Warsi’s outspokenness on this issue contrasted with her silence on elements such as ideology, extremist narratives, identity politics or Islamist groups shows the absolute problem with giving her the counter-extremism portfolio.
In essence, she was in charge of a policy that she fundamentally disagreed with, something that has held national counter-extremism policy back for the whole of the three years that she has been in place.
I value any principled stand, but I worry when the principles don’t stand up to scrutiny. Did Warsi not feel the need to oppose British governmental aid to a Pakistan, whose indiscriminate shelling of North Waziristan and Baluchistan has led to more than 870,000 internally displaced people?
Apparently not, as she recently increased the aid package to £446 million.
Her unelected and tokenistic entry into British politics, then the Cabinet, then to look after a portfolio she had no clue about, likely gave her delusions of grandeur.
Certainly, it gave her delusions of representation. It must have been clear in her head that she didn’t represent the people of Dewsbury, but it was perhaps less clear to her, as the first Muslim to serve in a British Cabinet, that she didn’t represent Muslims.
The support she did have came from certain Muslim community groups. It was likely this that convinced her to avoid confronting Islamism head on and may also have convinced her to resign over Gaza.
Several politicians have spoken out against Israel’s actions and against British policy towards the conflict; they realise that they can contribute to the debate from their current positions in a way that Warsi thinks impossible. If anything, Warsi is now not only less representative of Muslims up and down the land, but also less capable to do anything about their grievances.
In this, there is indeed tragedy.
Likewise, there is tragedy in the ingrained notion that a politician who happens to be Muslim must speak as a ‘community leader’ for Muslims and react dramatically when humanitarian grievances, framed by Islamists as Muslim ones, become an issue for policy-makers.
The holes Warsi has left in the FCO and the DCLG both need filling, and I am sure the Prime Minister will manage this when he returns from his summer holiday. But perhaps he should reconsider who looks after counter-extremism strategy.
It is right that it is separate from counter-terrorism, but given that it will eventually be delivered in schools, universities, prisons and communities alike, it requires co-ordination from above the DfE, BIS, MOJ and DCLG respectively. A counter-extremism tsar operating out of Number 10 looks to be the most effective way of doing this.
The headaches that Warsi has caused for Cameron over the last three years may have been rounded off by a very big holiday headache, but with the above solution, he can return from Portugal headache-free.
This article was originally featured on Left Foot Forward here.