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Sayeeda Warsi

Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, born 28 March 1971) is a British solicitor and politician of Pakistani origin who was created a life peer in 2007. From May 2010 to September 2012 she was the Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, along with Lord Feldman, and a Minister without Portfolio in David Cameron's Cabinet. She was the first Muslim to serve in a British Cabinet, the third Muslim minister and the first female Muslim to serve as a minister in the United Kingdom, although she never won an election. On 4 September 2012, she was appointed Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities.[1] Warsi resigned from both posts on 5 August 2014 citing concerns that she was no longer able to support government policy on Gaza. [2]

Early life and career 

Baroness Warsi was the second of five daughters born in Dewsbury, West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1971, to Pakistani immigrants fromBewal, Gujar Khan. She is of the Jat caste, her ancestors being from southern Pakistan. Her father, Safdar Hussain,[3] after starting life as a mill worker, operates a bed manufacturing company, which has a turnover of £2 million a year. Warsi has said that her father's success led her to adopting Conservative principles.[4]

Warsi was educated at Birkdale High School, Dewsbury College, and the University of Leeds, where she read Law. She attended the College of Law (now the University of Law), York, and completed her legal practice training thereafter with both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Home Office Immigration Department.

After qualifying as a solicitor, she worked for the last Conservative MP for Dewsbury, John Whitfield, at Whitfield Hallam Goodall Solicitors and then set up a practice in Dewsbury.


Political career 

Warsi was the unsuccessful Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury at the 2005 general election, becoming the first Muslim woman to be selected by the Conservatives. During the election campaign she was criticised for election literature which was described as "homophobic" by the gay equality group Stonewall.[5] She served as a special adviser to Michael Howard on community relations, and was appointed by David Cameron as vice chairman of the Conservative Party with specific responsibility for cities.

Life peer 

On 2 July 2007, Warsi was appointed Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion.[6] To take up the post, she was created a life peeras Baroness Warsi, of Dewsbury in the County of West Yorkshire, on 11 October 2007 and was introduced in the House of Lords on 15 October 2007.[7] On joining the House of Lords, she became its youngest member.[8]

On 1 December 2007, Warsi travelled to Khartoum, with the Labour peer Lord Ahmed, to mediate in the Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case (a British citizen teaching at Unity High School had been prosecuted and jailed for insulting Islam after allowing her class to name a teddy bear Muhammed). Although the peers' meeting with Sudanese PresidentOmar al-Bashir did not lead directly to Gillian Gibbons being pardoned, it is acknowledged that, along with the enormous efforts made by her family, friends, and others, it was a helpful contribution to her release. Gibbons' son thanked Warsi and Ahmed for "their hard work behind the scenes" and the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, praised both peers, saying "I applaud the particular efforts of Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi in securing her freedom." The left-leaning Guardian newspaper referred to the incident as "Tory Peer's Triumph".[9][10]
In Government[edit]
Minister without portfolio[edit]

On 12 May 2010, David Cameron appointed Baroness Warsi as Minister without portfolio in Cabinet, when she succeeded Eric Pickles as chairman of the Conservative Party. The appointment made Warsi the first Muslim woman to serve in the Cabinet.[11]

She was sworn of the Privy Council on 13 May 2010.[12]

Cabinet reshuffle 

Ahead of David Cameron's first cabinet reshuffle, Warsi told the Daily Telegraph: "If I genuinely had a choice, I would like to stay doing what I'm doing." Speaking in Tampa Bay, Florida, where she had been attending the Republican Party convention, Lady Warsi said the Prime Minister knew her strengths and weaknesses. She said the party needed more votes from people in urban areas and more women. She said: "If you look at the demographics, at where we need to be at the next election, we need more people in the North voting for us, more of what they call here blue collar workers and I call the white working class. We need more people from urban areas voting for us, more people who are not white and more women. I play that back and think, I'm a woman, I'm not white, I'm from an urban area, I'm from the North, I'm working class - I kind of fit the bill. All the groups that we're aiming for are groups that I'm familiar with. I believe you've got to have the right people in the right job," she added.[13]


In the same interview she said that she was angry to be viewed "as a tokenistic appointment". Lord Ashcroft found “At the 2010 election, only 16% of ethnic minority voters supported the Conservatives. More than two thirds voted Labour1. Not being white was the single best predictor that somebody would not vote Conservative. The gulf between the Conservative Party and ethnic minorities is a well-known feature of British politics. It persists in spite of the Tories’ efforts in recent years to reach beyond their core voters.” [14]

In the event, on 4 September 2012 Warsi was shuffled to the new post of "Senior Minister of State" in the Foreign Office and Minister for Faith and Communities (the latter being a role she shadowed in opposition). Warsi announced she had been removed as Party Chairman via twitter, tweeting, "It's been a privilege and an honour to serve my party as co-chairman, signing off @ToryChairman".[15]

Minister in UK 

Senior Minister of State 

At the Foreign Office she was responsible for: • Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh • central Asia • human rights • UN, OIC, International Organisations and the International Criminal Court • all FCO business in the House of Lords.[16]

At the Department for Communities and Local Government she worked with religious and community leaders to promote faith, religious tolerance and stronger communities within the UK.[17]
Islamic Finance 

Baroness Warsi established and co-Chaired the UK Government’s first Ministerial Task Force on Islamic Finance.[18] She said that the industry worth around $1.85 trillion (£1.15 trillion) globally, with growth rates of up to 15 per cent each year. She argued “with billions of pounds in reported assets, and with the world’s financial capital, the UK is an increasingly important global player in Islamic finance”. Iconic buildings like London’s Shard have been given life with the help of Islamic finance, and London is home to a growing number of banks, law firms and other service providers with expertise in the sector. Added to this she argued “is Britain’s wider business offer. From our legal system and regulatory framework, to our time-zone and track record of innovation, the UK is rightly seen as a partner of choice”. She said the UK Government was determined to play its part in the development of the Islamic finance market. This is why the Prime Minister announced that we want to become the first country outside the Islamic world to issue an Islamic bond, a sukuk. She argues Britain is “a first class destination for trade and investment” and she is determined to “cement Britain’s position as the leading player for Islamic finance”.[19]

Her vision of an ‘Islamic Finance economy that never sleeps” has struck a chord by the industry.[20] At the World Islamic Economic Forum, the UK Government announced that Baroness Warsi will chair a new Global Islamic Finance and Investment Group. The Group will include members from key Islamic finance centres, including Chief Executives and Central Bank Governors. It will meet regularly to identify and address the critical factors that will drive the global Islamic finance market over the next 5 years. Bringing together senior experts and practitioners from industry and governments the group will consider the issues surrounding Islamic finance and how best to work together to promote its development.[21]

Persecution of Christians and Minorities 

At a speech in Washington DC, Baroness Warsi stated, “There are parts of the world today where to be a Christian is to put your life in danger. From continent to continent, Christians are facing discrimination, ostracism, torture, even murder, simply for the faith they follow”.[22]

She called it a “global crisis”, and made the case for an international response. She called for a “cross-faith, cross-continent unity on this issue – for a response which isn't itself sectarian. Because a bomb going off in a Pakistani church shouldn't just reverberate through Christian communities; it should stir the world”.[22]

Gay rights 

The gay rights organisation Stonewall, as well as several Labour politicians, questioned her suitability for a high-profile Conservative Party role owing to leaflets issued during her 2005 election campaign that contained views which they claimed were homophobic. Some of her 2005 campaign leaflets claimed that Labour's lowering of the homosexual age of consent from 18 to 16 (under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000) was "allowing schoolchildren to be propositioned for homosexual relationships",[23] and that homosexuality was being "peddled" to children as young as seven in schools.[24]

Speaking in December 2013 at a BNP Paribas event in support for the Kaleidoscope Trust, she apologised for her leaflets and said she was ‘on the wrong side of history’ on gay rights[25]

Warsi abstained in the vote over the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Lords.[26]

Immigration 

In discussing immigration, Warsi said that people who back the British National Party (BNP) may have a point: "They have some very legitimate views. People who say, 'we are concerned about crime and justice in our communities – we are concerned about immigration in our communities'".[27][28] On 22 October 2009, Warsi represented the Conservatives on a controversial edition of Question Time marking the first ever appearance of Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP.[29] During that broadcast she strongly criticised the BNP, and when directly asked whether she was in favour of civil partnerships, replied, "I think that people who want to be in a relationship together, in the form of a civil partnership, absolutely have the right to do that."[30]

Islam 

On 30 November 2009, she was pelted with eggs by a group of Muslims whilst on a walkabout in Luton. The protesters accused her of not being a proper Muslim and of supporting the death of Muslims in Afghanistan. Warsi told the BBC that the men were "idiots who did not represent the majority of British Muslims". She later continued her walkabout with a police escort.[31] In May 2010, British radical Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary warned that she could be in physical danger if she visited Muslim communities. He said she would be attacked by eggs every time she went near a Muslim community and some protesters may take the attacks further, because he did not view her as a Muslim and could not represent Islam or any Muslim due to her support of the military involvement of the British Army in some Muslim countries.[32]

In the context of the United Kingdom debate over veils, a Tory MP tried to ban women from wearing burqas in public in 2010. Warsi responded that the garment does not limit women from engaging in everyday life. Amidst critics who say the burqa is divisive and has no place in British society, she argued that the choice of what to wear should be down to the individual.[33]

Lady Warsi argued against following the example of France and banning Muslim women from wearing the veil as this was “not the British way” she said “that allowing people wear what they want was the basis of a free society”. She added: “I think I would be as offended if I was told ‘actually you must wear a miniskirt to work because that's that we like women to wear’ as I would be if somebody came to me and said ‘we want you to be covered from head to toe because that's what we like woman to wear’.”

But she also insisted that those who choose to wear garments such as full-face veil must accept that there are some situations in which it is not appropriate and some jobs they might not be able to do.[34]

She was supported in her position by her colleague, Immigration Minister, Damian Green who said banning the face veil would be "un-British" and would be at odds with the UK's "tolerant and mutually respectful society".[35]

Church and society 

In September 2010, during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to England and Scotland, Baroness Warsi said the Labour government appeared to have viewed religion as "essentially a rather quaint relic of our pre-industrial history. They were also too suspicious of faith's potential for contributing to society – behind every faith-based charity, they sensed the whiff of conversion and exclusivity. And because of these prejudices they didn't create policies to unleash the positive power of faith in our society."[36] She returned to this theme, as a cabinet minister, in February 2012, saying "Britain is under threat from a rising tide of militant secularisation", before an official visit to the Vatican to mark the 30th anniversary of the re-establishment of full diplomatic ties between Britain and the Vatican.[37] She went on to say, "I am not calling for some kind of 21st century theocracy. Religious faith and its followers do not have the only answer. There will be times when politicians and faith leaders will disagree. What is more, secularism is not intrinsically damaging. My concern is when secularisation is pushed to an extreme, when it requires the complete removal of faith from the public sphere".[38] While she herself is a Muslim, she says that Europe needs to be "more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity".[37]

On the Church of England, she insists she had “no doubts whatsoever” about maintaining its position as the Established Church. Describing the CofE as a “bedrock” of society. She believes “the system works”. “We have an Established Church”, it has “a unique position” an “obligation to all of its parishioners irrespective of their faith”. She thinks “it is an incredibly positive aspect of our life in Britain and long may it continue.” [39]

In November 2013, Lady Warsi, told an audience at the University of Cambridge, that Faith was being put back at the “heart of government,” as it was under Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher. The Coalition she argued, is one of the “most pro-faith governments in the West,”. “More often than not, people who do God do good.” She said that religious groups must be allowed to provide public services without the state being “suspicious of their motives”. Quoting Margaret Thatcher she said 'I wonder whether the State services would have done as much for the man who fell among thieves as the Good Samaritan did for him?’  [39]

Resignation 

In early August 2014, it was reported that Baroness Warsi resigned her roles as senior minister of state at the foreign office and minister for faith & communities in protest at the government's position on the recent Israeli operation in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge.[40]

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