Sayeeda Hussain Warsi warns of ‘respectable racism’

Mainstream politicians have helped fuel a surge in “respectable racism”, former Tory cabinet minister, Sayeeda Hussain Warsi has warned.

Ms Warsi, the first Muslim woman to attend cabinet when she was co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party, expressed concern that the tone of the Brexit and London mayoral campaigns had helped allow a climate of intimidation.

“I was still disgusted, but more comfortable, with the racism of the 70s and 80s that was overt and thuggish, than this new form of respectable xenophobia where it is done in political circles, journalism, and academia,” the Tory peer told the Guardian.

Ms Warsi accused politicians of being responsible for the spike in hate crime after the EU referendum result was announced.

“I do not hold anybody who voted for Brexit responsible for the rise in racism; I don’t hold people who believed in Brexit responsible; but I definitely hold politicians, who put out divisive xenophobic messages and posters responsible, because this created the atmosphere in which this thrived,” she said.

“What is the kind of Britain we are starting to create? People were saying: ‘Why should she wear a headscarf?’. What next? ‘Why should people wear a skull cap? Why should people wear a turban?’

“And, as women, have we really not got over the 1950s, when middle-aged white men used to tell us what we can or cannot wear? I thought we’d got beyond the point where people commented on the length of our skirt.

“When politicians express shock and condemn the rise of hate crime, what I ask is, take a long, hard look at yourselves first. What is it that we are doing that is sending out the green light to people who hold racist, Islamophobic, antisemitic, xenophobic views that it is OK to say these things?”

Ms Warsi was also critical of Tory MP Zac Goldsmith’s controversial campaign to be London mayor, in which he repeatedly warned that Labour’s Sadiq Khan had shared platforms with extremists.

“This concept of the enemy within and fifth columnists, which was raised by people like Ukip, has now started to creep into mainstream politics,” said Ms Warsi. “And that is why — however much I wanted London to be governed by a Tory mayor — I didn’t think the means justified the ends.”

Ms Warsi also said she was now ashamed of homophobic material she used in previous campaigns which criticised the then Labour government’s move to lift the ban on teaching about homosexuality in schools.

“I was confusing this commitment to family values with a dismissal of alternative sexual lifestyles,” said Ms Warsi.


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