(Please see UPDATE at end)
I was heartened last week by the appointment of Sayeeda Warsi by David Cameron as shadow minister for community cohesion. She seemed to be a person with outspoken, but sensible, views and she is a Moslem, and it seemed like a sound idea to have someone like her 'on board' to help formulate policy which might bring the various communities, ethnic and religious, together.
My only knowledge of her until now was having seen her as a panellist on Question Time on a couple of occasions and she gave the impression of being straight-forward and with a refreshingly open way of dealing with issues.
So far, so good, but unfortunately there seems to be a little more to Sayeeda Warsi than being a seemingly-modern Moslem woman with political views seemingly in tune with today's Conservative Party. She is also a homophobe. David Cameron says that as a member of his shadow cabinet, however, she accepts collective responsibility and as such supports policies supported by the Conservsative Party. This may be fine so long as she is kept well away from any involvement in the formulation of policies relating to social policy - the dangers of letting religious bigots/zealots (and I don't care if some feel these words are unwarranted - they are simply a statement of fact!) have influence over this area were shown recently when a member of the Government, Ruth Kelly, was tasked with such a role, and her attempted use of that position to exempt churches from new laws prohibiting discrimination in employment affecting homosexuals and her later attempts to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from new laws prohibiting discrimination against (i.e. exclusion of) same-sex couples adotping children.
It is futile to say, as Cameron does, that Warsi will abide by his Party's policies when all such matters are regarded as matters of conscience and only tangentially subject to overall Party policy. I am all for including Moslems, or Catholics, or staunch Protestants (i.e. the Rev Iain Paisley) in our political life - just so long as it is quite clear that the UK is a secular society and attempts by these people to impose their religious views on the rest of society will NOT BE TOLERATED. I'm afraid that David Cameron's current attempts, in his remarks on Sayeeda Warsi's views on homosexuality, to gloss over these bigotted views are not at all convincing. I will be watching closely to see how her presence in the shadow cabinet affects policy-development in practice.
UPDATE: (Friday 13JUL07 14.35 BST) I have just realised I wrote about Sayeeda Warsi in late-April 2005, just ahead of the May general elections that year, when she was Conservative candidate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.