Cameron praises controversial minister but makes no mention of equality

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David Cameron used his vital leadership speech at the Tory party conference today to praise the work of Baroness Warsi, the controversial shadow community cohesion secretary who said BNP voters have some “very legitimate views.”

The passage praising Baroness Warsi constituted the only part of the speech where he mentioned equality.

The Conservative leader said he was proud to have the first Muslim woman in a cabinet or shadow cabinet.

But Baroness Warsi infuriated the gay community with leaflets for her 2005 campaign which berated Labour for overturning Section 28.

“Labour has scrapped Section 28, which was introduced by the Conservatives to stop schools promoting alternative sexual lifestyles such as homosexuality to children as young as seven years old,” it read.

“Labour reduced the age of consent for homosexuality from 18 to 16, allowing schoolchildren to be propositioned for homosexual relationships.”

A letter obtained by later revealed that several Labour politicians wrote to David Cameron asking him to distance himself from the comments.

Mr Cameron never responded to their letter, but its existence proves that he was aware of Baroness Warsi’s views before appointing her shadow community cohesion secretary.

Today Mr Cameron was touting Baroness Warsi as proof the Tories were the ‘One Nation’ party.

“If we are really the one-nation party, the party of opportunity for everybody, it’s not enough just to open the door and say ‘come in’, we have to get out in Britain’s ethnic minority communities and get the brightest and get them in,” he said.

Mr Cameron’s support for his minister so shortly after her comments on BNP voters will be taken by many observers to be further proof of a drift to the right.

Comments from former shadow homeland security secretary Patrick Mercer earlier this year about racist abuse in the army earned him an instant sacking from Mr Cameron.

But Baroness Warsi’s comments seem to have merely earned her emphatic praise from her leader, both on Andrew Marr’s Sunday AM programme and in his leader’s speech.

Nevertheless, he made a point of denying any change to the party’s modernising agenda.

Mr Cameron said: “There’s been quite a lot of talk of lurching and I can tell you we are not going to be lurching to the left, we are not going to be lurching to the right, we are just going to provide the good solid leadership that this country needs.”

Mr Cameron delivered his speech without an autocue saying: “It might be messy but it’ll be me.”

While covering most of the major issues – from immigration to the environment – his speech was noticeable for its lack of content on equality issues.

Mr Cameron made no mention of gay, disabled or women’s rights.

The speech today was being billed as the most important of his political life, following substantial poll leads for Labour and the near-certainty of a 2007 general election.

It will have soothed some of those concerns with its confident delivery and calls for Mr Brown to “go ahead and call that election,” delivered to loud applause.

He finished his speech saying: “We will fight and Britain will win.”

The Tories can now expect a bounce in the polls following media attention on the conference. Whether that bounce can sustain itself is another matter.