The Conservative shadow secretary for community cohesion has caused outrage in political circles by claiming the BNP voters hold some “very legitimate views.”
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Muslim, was one of David Cameron’s most celebrated appointments to the front bench earlier this year, but her comments have reopened accusations of a drift to the right on the eve of Mr Cameron’s vital leader’s speech at the party conference.
In an interview with the Independent, Baroness Warsi said: “There are a lot of people out there who are voting for the British National Party and it’s those people that we mustn’t just write off and say ‘well, we won’t bother because they are voting BNP or we won’t engage with them’.
“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’.
“Immigration has been out of control. We don’t have any idea how many people are here who are unaccounted for, and it’s that lack of control and not knowing that makes people feel uneasy – not the fact that somebody of a different colour or a different religion or a different origin is coming into our country – the fact that it is actually not controlled,” she continued.
“The control of immigration impacts upon a cohesive Britain. The pace of change unsettles communities.”
Her words were immediately seized on by anti-racist groups.
Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote (OBV), a group Baroness Warsi used to work for, said: “Pandering to racist views peddled by the BNP and bought by BNP voters is grotesque.
“This country would collapse if it wasn’t for migrant workers.”
The comments are bound to be interpreted as evidence of a gradual drift to the right in the Conservative party but David Cameron defended Baroness Warsi on Andrew Marr’s Sunday AM programme.
“I’ll tell you something about Sayeeda,” he said.
“She has spent most of her political life in West Yorkshire fighting the BNP street by street, standing up for the Conservative Party.
“I think the BNP is a dreadful party,” he continued.
“I wish they didn’t exist. I think they are despicable people. But we have to recognise that people do have concerns about immigration.”
It is not the first time Baroness Warsi has found herself in trouble over her views. Stonewall originally questioned her suitability for the community cohesion post following the accusation that homophobic comments had appeared on her 2005 campaign literature.
While leaflets sent to white voters contained an anti-immigration theme, those sent to Muslim voters concentrated on homosexuality.
“Labour has scrapped Section 28, which was introduced by the Conservatives to stop schools promoting alternative sexual lifestyles such as homosexuality to children as young as seven years old,” it read.
“Labour reduced the age of consent for homosexuality from 18 to 16, allowing schoolchildren to be propositioned for homosexual relationships.”
Pinknews.co.uk obtained a copy of a letter to David Cameron from various Labour politicians, including Mike Wood and Shahid Malik, complaining about the tone of the leaflets.
“After perusing the leaflets, which focus negatively on race and sexuality, we would welcome your position vis-à-vis the literature,” the letter read.
“We would welcome your leadership on this issue within your own party and we hope that you would wish to distance yourself and condemn the literature which certainly has no place in a constituency that already has the highest BNP vote in the country.”
A senior source in the Labour party confirmed that Mr Cameron had received the letter, but had not replied.
Baroness Warsi later apologised for the leaflets in an interview with the Guardian.
“I look back at lots of my election leaflets and think, ‘God – why did I phrase it like that? What was I on?’” she said.
“Looking back on it, maybe I could have used much better language than that.”
It remains to be seen whether she will be forced into an apology for her latest comments.