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.