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My Guardian opinion piece about Home Secretary Rt Hon Suella Braverman MP — learning points

Both the way the piece came about, and the way I wrote it, offer worthwhile lessons.


Posted 18 June 2023. Guardian piece published 17 April 2023.

In April, the Guardian published an opinion piece by me: "For years, I urged minorities to join the Tories. But now there’s Suella Braverman, I say – get out!" You can read the published version by clicking the link, since the Guardian has no paywall. (If you find the Guardian's journalism valuable, I encourage to contribute financially, as I do each year.)

Many people I know around the world wrote to congratulate me for writing. On this page, I want to share some messages about how the piece came into being, as there are some worthwhile learning points.

Learning points

Never change your mobile number

The Guardian's Executive Editor Opinion telephoned me "out of the blue" at 11:19 on Friday 14 April asking me to write a piece saying what I thought of Suella Braverman's language.

He was able to do this because in 2013 he had interviewed me, and my mobile number was unchanged. My professional career taught me the importance of never changing your contact details. Indeed my mobile number dates back to the very beginning of GSM digital mobile telephony, even though my physical phone has changed many times.

Put everyone you deal with into your phone's address book. (And synchronise it with your computer to avoid loss!)

When my iPhone phone rang, the display told me that it was Hugh Muir of the Guardian, and I remembered him clearly from the 2013 interview.

Accordingly I was able to great him warmly from the moment that I answered the phone, rather than answering with the slightly cagey voice when you don't know who is calling you. A warm response undoubtedly leads to a better telephone interaction.

Agree realistic deadlines, and deliver

Hugh asked if I could supply the piece later that day. I explained that was unrealistic, and agreed to deliver it on Sunday. I sent it at 17:27 as soon as I had written and checked it. It was published the following day.

Choose your criticism carefully

Many people have criticised Mrs Braverman because her language has much in common with what Nazi Germany said about Jews. While I think such criticism is accurate, it is not the most effective criticism to make. It is too easy for her to rebut by pointing out that sending attempted asylum seekers to Rwanda is nothing like the Holocaust.

Anyone familiar with Godwin's Law will appreciate how unwise such criticism is.

Instead, I focused very specifically on Mrs Braverman turning her face against those fleeing persecution, and compared it directly to the way the UK gave so little sanctuary to adult Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

Acknowledge the positives

There is nothing positive I can say about Mrs Braverman. However I was a Conservative Party member for 36 years, and until the Zac Goldsmith Mayoral Campaign of 2016 there were many good things to say about the Party Leader David Cameron MP.

Including positives gets you a better hearing for your criticism.

Professional journalists may revise, but they do not distort

I have been giving interviews since the mid-2000's, both in my previous role as a PwC Tax Partner and due to my many voluntary activities, as well as submitting written text for publication.

With one lamentable exception, I have never had a journalist distort what I said to them in an interview. While my text may be amended to make it sharper, as Hugh Muir did, and also to meet the newspaper's "house style", it is never done in a way that distorts.

The exception was one journalist who interviewed me by telephone, and then accurately reported half of what I said! I never gave that journalist or that newspaper another interview.

Lower down on the page, you can read my original submitted text, and a redlined comparison with the final article so that you can see how Hugh Muir edited it.

Ordinary writers (like me) cannot compose good headlines

When I was a Conservative, and on one occasion after I had left the Party, I wrote over 70 pieces for the Conservative Home website, editor Paul Goodman. Paul rarely changed my text, but almost always revised the headline.

He explained that contributors are basically incapable of writing a good headline. It needs a professional journalist.

That is certain the case for this piece, when you compare my original headline with the final published piece.

The reach of online mainstream media is enormous

The number of response I received to this article was a salutary reminder of just how much more reach the mainstream media has, compared with most websites.

Original submitted piece

My lament for the Conservative Party

I have been a politics junkie since 1960. Accordingly, I remember the Labour Party introducing the Race Relations Act 1965, while Conservative MPs regularly made racist remarks, the worst being Enoch Powell’s so called “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968. My future wife’s Pakistani origin family in Romford experienced racist attacks for the first time after that speech.

Despite this, in 1983 as a new convert to free-market capitalism I joined the Conservative Party because I considered that Margaret Thatcher was transforming Britain for the better. I still do.

Due to other commitments, I was personally politically inactive until I was introduced to the late Lord Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum (“CMF”), in 2006. I became its Deputy Chairman, then Chairman from 2014, and a regular attender at the Party Conference, writer on Conservative Home, etc.

In the 2005 Conservative leadership election, I chose David Cameron over David Davis because I considered him more socially liberal and inclusive. Mr Cameron fulfilled my expectations in many ways, for example by living with a Muslim family in Birmingham for two days in 2007.

The CMF’s main role is to encourage Muslims to support the Conservative Party. In the 2005 general election, only about 10% of British Muslims voted Conservative. The efforts of Mr Cameron, the CMF, and others, raised this to 15% in 2010, and 25% in 2015. Sadly, since then the trend has reversed, with fewer Muslims voting Conservative in 2017 and fewer still in 2019.

What went wrong? In my view, the Conservative Party began putting winning at all costs before its principles.

The rot started with the Zac Goldsmith London Mayoral campaign of 2016. Many Muslims, including me, saw Mr Goldsmith despicably trying to paint his Labour opponent Sadiq Khan as a closet extremist.

It got worse under PM Theresa May. Boris Johnson’s notorious Sunday Telegraph article comparing Muslim women who wore a niqab or burka to letterboxes or bank robbers led to no sanctions.

When Mrs May resigned in 2019 after terrible local election and European Parliament elections, many stood for the Leadership. While I had policy differences with most of the candidates, apart from one person, none would have caused me to leave the Party.

The sole exception was Mr Johnson. I considered him morally unfit to be PM, because in my opinion he did not care about the difference between truth and falsehood, or care about anyone but himself. After I shared these views on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme in June 2019, under pressure from the Party Chairman the CMF expelled me.

After three years Mr Johnson’s leadership imploded, while Liz Truss self-destructed in 49 days. The Party turned to Rishi Sunak, who should be celebrated as our second ethnic minority PM – the first being Disraeli.

While he seems to be a decent chap, I see Mr Sunak as the prisoner of the Party’s right wing, led by Suella Braverman. Why else is she Home Secretary, despite having been sacked from the role by Liz Truss for leaking Cabinet documents?

Sadly, Mr Sunak seems to believe that the Party can only win the next general election with naked populism, painting Labour as representing “the elite”, being “enemies of the people”, “anti-Brexit”, “pro unlimited migration”, “woke” on gender, and “unpatriotic”. These bear traps are easily avoided – why else does Sir Keir Starmer always seem to have a Union Jack behind him for every speech!

Most disgusting is Mrs Braverman’s anti-refugee rhetoric. It reminds me of British rhetoric in the 1930’s against Jewish refugees. We rightly celebrate the Kindertransport (Children’s Transport), but the reason the trains only carried children is that Britain would not give refuge to their parents.

When I thought she could not sink any lower, Mrs Braverman singled out British Pakistani men as predominating in “grooming gangs”, despite the Home Office’s own report stating that no evidence existed showing that British Pakistanis were over-represented. I was delighted to see Baroness Warsi flay her in the Guardian.

If you are a decent person in the Conservative Party, should you leave, as I did, or stay, as Baroness Warsi has done? I recognise that Baroness Warsi’s criticisms of Mrs Braverman have more impact because she is still a Conservative. However, I could never ask anyone to vote for today’s Conservative Party, which is why I have been a Liberal Democrat since October 2019.

A healthy democracy needs respectable and electable political parties on all parts of the political spectrum. I believe the Conservative Party can only be healed by massive defeat and a purging of the extreme right, just as Labour needed the defeat of 1983 before Neil Kinnock expelled the extreme left and Tony Blair made it electable again.

Concluding comments

The published piece contains a number of hyperlinks inserted by Hugh Muir. They make the piece much better. The only reason I didn't include any links myself is that I wasn't sure if the Guardian wanted them.

Link to redlined comparison of the published article and my original.


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