We have to get back to a politics of compassion – and that means returning to the centre

Instead of blaming people for their problems, those in power must take responsibility for helping them, writes Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

Baroness Warsi says Tories infected with 'vile racism'

If we are to have any hope for a return to the centre ground, we have to start with compassion.

True centrist politics combines the best of the left and the right – understanding that the state has a role to play, but also committing to the idea that individuals must play their part. By contrast, the extremes of left and right at work in our politics today are often focused on blaming people for their own and society’s problems.

I myself have seen this play out in our public debate over racism. Our politicians have often weaponised racism for their own political ends, and instead of viewing all forms as wrong, they have created their own hierarchies of racism.

The Labour Party of recent years has failed to recognise that you don’t have to be poor or powerless to be the victim of racism, and has dismissed obvious incidents of antisemitism as part of a conspiracy against its leaders. The Conservative Party has slid from patriotism into a nationalism that carries an increasingly evident Islamophobic undertone.

Both have apparently forgotten the fundamental principle of a moral, inclusive, anti-racist politics: that in a democratic, decent society, we are all of equal worth and value. It is on that principle that the centre ground must be founded.

This principle is hardly limited to race or religion. Children in care, people who are homeless, people who are lonely, older people who can’t access proper social care – our impulse must be to help them. Whether people are being held back by poverty, disability, lack of education, or discrimination, it is the responsibility of those in power not to absolve themselves of blame but to find humane solutions that help end the suffering.

With the election finally over, there are reasons to be hopeful. Boris Johnson has called for healing. He is confident, as am I, that we can move on from this toxic, fractious period in our politics.

To do that, we must ensure that Brexit is concluded in a way that delivers not only on its democratic mandate but also in a way that causes the least possible harm to citizens. If we want to return to a compassionate politics of the centre, that must be our first step.

And delivering Brexit in a way that can heal our divisions must also include tackling the racist rhetoric that has surged since the referendum campaign began – including within the Conservative Party itself.

The coming inquiry into all forms of discrimination and prejudice, including Islamophobia, could be a huge step forward as we try to move on. It is right that the inquiry include not just Islamophobia, but also the racist undertones to the “hostile environment” that led to the appalling injustices inflicted on the Windrush generation, as well as antisemitism and bigotry directed against traveller communities.

If we fail to protect any one community against abuse then we have failed in our responsibility as a One Nation party that sees all its citizens being of equal worth and value.

I am concerned, however, by the choice of the inquiry’s chair. Swaran Singh has expressed views that seem incompatible with the purpose of the inquiry, seeming to dismiss concerns around prejudice as simply victimhood. His instinct is to absolve institutions of responsibility, and thus to absolve those in power of the need to find a solution. I hope he rethinks his approach and makes compassion and respect for all his starting point.

Still, with its new majority, the Conservative Party has a chance to move on. It can make up for using the wrong tools to win power by doing the right thing in power. We have a moment to heal, and that means making sure those in charge of the process begin from a position of humanity and a determination to find solutions that help and heal.

The sad fact is that blame-driven populist politics works; it makes for good slogans, stirs up passions, and wins elections. But a politics of compassion makes for a stronger nation.

Baroness Warsi is a member of the House of Lords and a former chairman of the Conservative Party.

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