Politicians blamed for rise in 'respectable racism'


Mainstream politicians have helped fuel a surge in "respectable racism", former Tory Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi has warned.

Lady 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.

Lady 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.

"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?" Lady Warsi said.

The peer 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. 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," she said.

Lady Warsi 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 am ashamed of the leaflets that I put out in the 2004-05 general election campaign when I stood in Dewsbury. I felt that those leaflets were homophobic. I was confusing this commitment to family values with a dismissal of alternative sexual lifestyles," she said.