What is Baroness Warsi accused of?
The main allegation in yesterday’s Sunday Times is that, in early 2008, Warsi was ‘claiming parliamentary expenses
for overnight accommodation when she was staying rent-free in a friend’s house’ in Acton. The house in question is owned by Dr Wafik Moustafa but Warsi stayed there as a guest of Naweed Khan
— who was himself staying in the house rent-free.
There was also a second allegation that the Baroness failed to declare on the Register of Lords’ Interests income from a flat she owned and was renting out — although it did appear on the
Register of Ministers’ Interests. Warsi has admitted to this one, saying it was ‘an oversight for which I take full responsibility’.
So how much money are we talking about?
The Sunday Times says Warsi was claiming £165.50 a night and that she claimed ‘more than £12,000 in “overnight subsistence” within six months of taking her seat in October
2007′. Warsi says she spent some of that time in hotels and ‘occasional nights’ in the Acton house, so it’s unclear how much of that £12,000 was for the latter.
And what did Warsi do with the money?
Warsi says that ‘For the nights that I stayed as a guest of Naweed Khan, I made an appropriate financial payment equivalent to what I was paying at the time in hotel costs.’ Khan confirms this,
saying that ‘she made a financial payment on each occasion, which compensated for the inconvenience caused and additional costs incurred by me as a result of her being there’. But Wafik Moustafa
says he didn’t receive any money from either Warsi or Khan.
Who are Naweed Khan and Wafik Moustafa?
Naweed Khan was a Conservative party official and is now Baroness Warsi’s special adviser.
Wafik Moustafa is a GP and Conservative party member and donor. He stood as the Tory candidate in Bootle, Liverpool in 2005, coming third with six per cent of the vote. In 2006, he formed the
Conservative Arab Network which, according to Benedict Brogan, ‘was barred from using the Tory party logo and claiming any affiliation by Lord Feldman, Lady Warsi’s co-chairman and David Cameron’s
close friend’. He now seems to be intent on destroying Warsi, and no politician wants to be in a row with someone who feels they have nothing to lose.
So what happens now?
Following calls for an investiagtion — including from Labour MPs John Mann and Chuka Umunna — Warsi has written to the Lords Standards Commissioner asking him to look into the
allegations against her. ITV’s Lucy Manning reports that the Commissioner is now having an initial investigation to
decide if a formal investigation is necessary.
But will she stay in the cabinet?
As Pete suggested yesterday, David Cameron might be inclined to wait for the
results of the investigation before deciding whether to replace Warsi as Tory chairman. After all, the PM made a big deal of the fact that he’d appointed the first female Muslim cabinet
minister, so will be very reluctant to lose her.
But Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, thinks she should step down. ‘I personally am always of the view’, he said, ‘when ministers
face very serious allegations that seem to have some strength to them, then it’s better that they stand down from their ministerial post while that investigation takes place’.
How much support can Warsi expect from Tory MPs?
In short, not a lot. She’s not very popular with her party’s MPs, many of whom wanted her out of the party chairmanship long before this scandal broke. There have been calls for a more
solid media performer — perhaps deputy chairman Michael Fallon or housing minister Grant Shapps — to take over. Even if the allegations do not force Warsi out of the cabinet, this could
be the chance many Tories have been looking for to replace her as chairman. If Cameron is keen to keep her attending cabinet, he could perhaps make her ‘integration minister’ at the
Department for Communities and Local Government.
How does this compare to other expenses scandals?
Comparisons have already been
drawn with Lord Hanningfield, who was jailed for nine months for claiming accommodation expenses when he was really staying at home. Then there’s David Laws, who stepped down from when it was
revealed that he had been claiming for rent he was paying to his partner. Crucially, Laws resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury immediately, before the start of the parliamentary standards