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UK Politics

Leading Conservative claims Muslim politicians lack 'principles'

Baroness Warsi under fire for comments made at dinner in honour of the visiting president of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir

A leading member of the Conservative shadow cabinet has argued against more Muslims going into Parliament because they lack "principles", a video obtained by The Independent reveals.

Baroness Warsi, the party's spokeswoman for community cohesion, was recorded saying that she did not want to see more Muslim MPs or Muslim Lords because "Muslims that go to Parliament don't have 'asool'". Asool is Urdu for "morals" or "principles".

A Conservative spokesperson said her remarks were take out of context. They said the word "asool" should have been translated as "Muslim principles" and wasn’t intended to imply that Muslim parliamentarians were immoral.

They also acknowledged that "this may not have been the best way of making her point" but insisted that she had been taken out of context.

"She was saying you shouldn't vote for a Muslim MP on the basis of their Muslim principle, you should vote for an MP based on their ability to represent the community regardless of their ethnic tick box."

Sayeeda Warsi was talking in Rotherham at a dinner in honour of the visiting president of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on 2 April in response to an earlier speaker who urged more Muslims to enter politics.

Lady Warsi, speaking in a mixture of English and Urdu, said: "[He] says that we need more Muslims MPs, that we need more Muslims in the House of Lords. I would actually disagree with that because I think one of the lessons we have learnt in the last five years in politics is that not all Muslims that go to into politics have asool."

"Not everyone puts their community before their own career," she added.

There were four Muslim MPs in the last parliament – all Labour – and there are more than 80 Muslim candidates standing for election today.

Khalid Mahmood, a Labour MP who is hoping to be re-elected in Birmingham Perry Barr said he was "disgusted" by the remarks.

Mahmood said: "It's offensive to me to say that the Muslim MPs have got no principles, it's not for her to say that.

"She's the vice chairman of the Tory party, for them to allow her to carry on making these sort of statements is offensive to all Muslims.

"Baroness Warsi should apologise for her comments. I am going for election for a third term running and I have worked very hard." he added.

Mr Mahmood said: "'Asool' means moral principles, not Muslim principle. It has no religious link." Several other Urdu speakers contacted by The Independent argued that "asool" has no religious conotations.

The Times had been due to publish an account of the remarks last Wednesday after being passed a transcript of an audio recording made by a local Urdu and English newspaper called Mahana ILM.

However the story was not published because The Times had been unable to get hold of a copy of the video and confirm Baroness Warsi's comments for themselves.

The Conservative party launched a damage limitation exercise after being approached for comment, insisting the transcript was "inaccurate".

Journalists from the Sheffield-based Mahana ILM had previously tried to sell the tape to a number of national newspapers.

Yesterday Mahana ILM denied that the tape existed and did not answer questions about it.

However, a spokesperson for the Conservatives confirmed that they had acquired a copy of the tape on Tuesday from Mahana ILM.

Raja Fryad, a journalist for Mahana ILM also confirmed that the newspaper had recorded the meeting and attempted to sell it.

He said he had been told not to make any comment but confirmed: "I was there in the meeting and these comments were made, and ILM do have a recording of that which they do for all these type of events."

Last night Warsi said in a statement: "I said that the definition of a good MP is someone that stands up for their constituents and who understands the communities they represent, not necessarily someone that ticks a particular ethnic box.

"People of every background feel let down by parliament and what is needed are MPs that can represent and empathise with their communities."

Transcript of Baroness Warsi's comments:

Relevent section starts at 1:20 in the video (see above)


In English: First of all Dr Z.U Khan (President of Azad Jammu & Kashmir) says that we need more Muslim members of parliament, we need more Muslims in the House of Lords. I would actually disagree with that. Because I think one of the lessons that we have learned over the last five years in politics is that…

In Urdu: …not all Muslims that go into politics are principled. Not all Muslims that are involved with politics are Lord Ahmed. Not all of them put their community first, and career second. There are many Muslims who put their career first when asked what they would do for Muslims. But then they say 'Muslims didn't vote us in as MPs. We are MPs for the whole of the community.” But during election time, they say “We are Muslims. Please vote for us”.

In English: I think we need more members of Parliament and more members of the House of Lords who understand the British Muslim communities, rather than who are Muslims themselves.