Riots in Birmingham, London and Manchester reflected a “something for nothing” culture encouraged by Labour, Tory chair Sayeeda Warsi tells Political Editor Jonathan Walker
She grew up in a poor family, experienced racism at school and still remembers the hushed whispers at home when her dad lost his job.
Conservative chairman Sayeeda Warsi may not sound like your typical Tory.
But in some ways she’s the Conservative dream bought to life, as someone who pulled herself up by her bootstraps and made it to the top through hard work and ambition.
Speaking during her party’s annual conference, she contrasted her response to the challenges she faced in life to the “something for nothing” attitude of looters who attacked shops in Birmingham, London and Manchester.
And she revealed she believed Labour leader Ed Miliband had the right idea when he called for more “responsibility” in society during his own conference speech – but claimed he was “hypocritical” for failing to accept that Labour was responsible for the culture created while it was in government.
She also attacked some proposed boundary changes as “mad and insane” and insisted Ministers regularly discussed ways of supporting the regions outside London around the cabinet table.
Asked what she believed lay behind riots which took place across the country, Lady Warsi said it would be wrong to “make excuses” for rioters, many of whom already had criminal records before this summer’s high-profile disorder.
The Muslim peer, who grew up in Yorkshire as the daughter of immigrants from Pakistan, added: “I came from a fairly poor family and it was tough. I didn’t go to a very good school and there was racism. But I didn’t think: ‘The way I can deal with all these challenges is to pinch a few shoes from Foot Locker’.
“I knew I needed to get my head down, work hard, make the best of what I had and work my way out.
“We have to be careful that we don’t make excuses for what is actually sometimes criminality.”
But not everyone who took part in the looting was a hardened criminal. What did Lady Warsi think had led so many ordinary people to go out shoplifting?
She said: “It is an overall culture, which is: ‘If you can get away with it, why not?’
“I agree with what Ed Miliband’s saying about the something for nothing culture, where people who work hard don’t get rewarded, where people who do the wrong thing seem to benefit. We were saying this in opposition, we are trying to implement it in things like our welfare reform in Government, but it’s hypocritical for Ed Miliband to be saying it – where has he been for 13 years?
“He’s not a martian that’s arrived just today. He was part of this project for more than a decade.”
The Government was trying to “dissect” the culture created by Labour, she said.
“For example, our housing benefit reforms are saying it isn’t right that people who work hard can’t afford to live in homes that those on housing benefit can afford to have paid for by the state.
“It isn’t right that single mum or dads wanting to get a part time job are going to pay 80 or 90 per cent of it back because you are not allowed to keep the extra money you earn.
“It can’t be right that, if you have saved for when you are older and you then need care, that you have to sell your home to get that care.
“Government has got to start rewarding right and punishing wrong.”
Lady Warsi insisted that supporting inner city areas and cities such as Birmingham was a top priority for the Cabinet.
“When we sit round the cabinet table, the conversations we have are about making sure the regions are protected and making sure we support local authorities so that those with more deprived communities in their areas have a larger per head settlement.”
But it was a mistake to rely on the public sector to create jobs and cut unemployment, she said.
“It’s not for Government to say that the only way to create jobs is to employ people as part of the state.
“Ultimately it is the private sector that has to grow to employ people.”
Although the Government’s spending cuts will inevitably lead to some redundancies, she said every job lost was a “tragedy”.
“I remember when Dad lost his job. And he came home and they had those hushed conversations.
“You knew something was wrong. You weren’t old enough to understand but you knew you had to behave for the next many weeks because there was something wrong at home.
“It is a tragedy. It changes the way in which you see so many things in life.”
As party chairman, one of the headaches Lady Warsi has to deal with is the anger of Tory MPs furious at plans to redraw or tear up their constituencies.
Proposals published by the Boundary Commission, as part of a Government proposal to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600, include moving a ward out of Sutton Coldfield and into Erdington – a suggestion firmly opposed by Sutton MP Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative member of the Cabinet.
Lady Warsi said: “I agree with some of my Members of Parliament that some of the proposals are mad and insane.
“But we have to come back to what we are doing here.
“All three parties went into the last election with a clear commitment to reduce the cost of politics, reduce the number of members of Parliament.”