Just days after the new Labour leader Ed Milliband called for an optimistic approach to politics, Sayeeda Warsi sinks to negative mudslinging and the best example of pessimistic politics we could hope for.
Pessimistic politics preaches that things can’t be better, and that things can’t change. This breed of politics plays on fear and manipulates opinions to achieve its own negative goals.
It is pessimistic because it attacks groups in our society who need to be engaged, not alienated. It is pessimistic because it panders to people outside those groups who need to be challenged, not have their prejudices reinforced. It is pessimistic because it states that British society is irreversibly divided and offers no hope of improvement.
It is our duty to challenge this kind of pessimism.
At a time of fragile relations between the political class and the voting public, making unsubstantiated allegations about certain groups in our society and accusations of disrespect for democracy is hugely irresponsible especially from someone in a position of such responsibility. Our approach should be to challenge fraud wherever it exists, and not to make it an ‘ethnic problem’.
Yes, I acknowledge that problems do indeed exist in some communities, but by singling it out as a purely ‘Asian issue’ rather than an issue for all of us, Warsi risks alienating huge numbers of people. Of course we need to fight voting fraud, but let’s do it together.
Warsi has been around long enough to know that the way to engage with different groups in our society is not to accuse them needlessly of fraud and corruption, but to engage with them, open those societies up and bring them fully into the political mainstream. We must expect and support everyone to do the right thing, not condemn communities as incapable of playing by the rules. Corruption, wherever it exists, can only be defeated with optimism, not Warsi’s pessimism.
Her rhetoric is particularly damaging because of her position as a cabinet member, a baroness and chairman of the Conservative Party – not to mention as the most senior British politician of Asian origin. What she says carries enormous weight, and her lead is taken by others and it is essential that she understands that she is a link to a community which desperately needs engaging.
Don’t get me wrong, of course she has every right to critique communities and, in fact, it is her duty to do so when there is clear proof of wrongdoing but it is imperative that she is reasonable and rational in her critiques.
Furthermore, without her providing clear evidence there is no way to respond to these attacks. Why is she not identifying which constituencies she alludes to? The lack of clarity means that everyone in this community gets tarnished with the same brush and no one has a chance to defend themselves.
More disappointingly, I feel that Warsi is making this a partisan issue. If voting fraud does exist, and it may well do, we need to tackle this across communities and across parties. This problem will not be solved through political point scoring.
In his acceptance speech, Ed Miliband said that we have to face facts and realise that people have lost faith in politics and politicians. Ed was absolutely right when he said that our politics is broken – ‘its practice, its reputation and its institutions’. Ed went on to speak about turning the page but unfortunately, in contrast, Warsi seems to be engaging in the same old pessimistic politics that prevents real work from being done and real outcomes from being achieved.
Most regretfully, she does not seek to balance out her accusations by reminding the public of the countless hardworking and honest members of the Asian community who performed their civic duty and voted.
The politics of engaging with minority communities can be challenging. It will involve being critical at times, but this must be done in the correct way, a way which will not cause alienation and encourage the pessimists. It is only by balancing these competing demands that Warsi will help more British Asians enter the mainstream and prove that she is indeed the optimist our communities need.
Sadly she is yet to show she can provide the optimistic, inspirational leadership that is needed.