all three peers had broken the rules
The House of Lords has been in tumult over recent weeks, as three peers have been punished for their involvement in the expenses scandal. Prior to this Lady Warsi made explosive accusations about electoral fraud, claiming it was particularly rife amongst the Asian community. Many are concerned about the negative impact this is having on people’s impressions of Brit-Asian politicians and the Asian community at large.
The expenses scandal dominated the national press last year, and it has reared its head again in the past week. Three members of The House of Lords, Amirali Bhatia, Pola Uddin and Swraj Paul, were all found to have breached expenses’ rules regarding property. An investigation found that all three peers had broken the rules by giving incorrect addresses for their main homes.
The committee that carried out the investigation decided that Lady Uddin and Lord Bhatia acted “not in good faith” by claiming overnight allowances after naming the wrong properties as their main home. The committee went on to describe Lord Paul as “utterly unreasonable” and “negligent”, but it did not believe that he acted dishonestly.
This is not the first time that Asian individuals have been found guilty of fiddling expenses. In February this year Sir Thomas Legg published a report about MPs claiming expenses that they weren’t entitled to. Eight Brit-Asian MPs were identified as being involved in the scandal.
The findings of this latest investigation could not come at a worse time for Brit-Asian politicians, as accusations of electoral fraud from Conservative party chairman Lady Warsi recently had already cast a shadow over them. She claimed that this fraud caused the Conservatives to lose three seats in this year’s general election in an interview with Mehdi Hassan from the New Statesman, a pro-Labour political magazine.
The Minister without Portfolio has come under attack for her comments, as some say they fuel anti-Islam sentiments. Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who represents Birmingham Perry Barr, told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “What she has done is open the door to which people can assume certain things, particularly about minority communities and the Muslim community.”
Yet her comments about electoral fraud do not identify the Muslim community specifically. She was asked about Michael Ashcroft’s opinion that the party failed to win a majority at the general elections because they didn’t get their “brand” across to voters. She highlighted ethnic minorities as one demographic where they didn’t do as well with as they could have. She then went on to say: “At least three seats where we lost, where we didn’t gain the seat, based on electoral fraud. Now, could we have planned for that in the campaign? Absolutely not.”
In the aftermath of Warsi’s interview, several members of the House of Lords were calling for her to make an official apology. During a Question Time session, where Warsi was absent, Shadow Lords Leader Baroness Royall of Blaisdon criticised Warsi for making her allegations in the press rather than to the police. Her outcry was not openly received by the members.
Labour’s Lord Hughes of Woodside said: “Baroness Warsi says specifically that the Conservative Party had lost an overall majority in the House of Commons on the basis of fraud in three or four constituencies perpetrated mainly by Asian minorities.”
“A Cabinet minister can’t do that and say it was just an off-the-cuff remark.”
“It is a very serious matter for any Government minister to traduce the constitution of this country and its electoral system and really she ought to come to this House and apologise,” said Lord Hughes.
Whether or not there will be an apology is yet to be seen, but she will not be thanked for further damning the Asian community’s reputation. If her accusations are serious then an official investigation needs to be carried out, such as the expenses’ investigation in the House of Lords. Only then can the guilty parties be identified and punished appropriately.