Last week the Conservative party suspended 14 members following accusations that they had posted abusive Islamophobia comments on social media.
None of this came as a surprise to me because I have been aware of the scale of Islamophobia in the Tory party for years. My view is shared by the former Chair of the Conservative Party, Lady Sayeeda Warsi, who has often called for an internal inquiry and urged Prime Minister Theresa May to deal with this problem urgently.
The comments posted online included “Turf all Muslims out of public office” and “Get rid of all the mosques,” as cited by the Guardian.
Previously, in 2015, a Tory council candidate was suspended after equating Islam to alcoholism. Another one said they were not prepared to vote for our Home Secretary in any forthcoming Tory leadership election as Sajid Javid is the most significant Muslim in the Tory party. One of the sites included a map showing every British mosque to which someone had attached the comment “This is not a Muslim country… We’re just letting the takeover happen.”
The Muslim Council of Britain warned that this showed “the scale of Islamophobia at all levels of the party is astonishing” and supported the call for an enquiry into Islamophobia.
Lady Warsi said that Tories had “A deep rooted problem of anti-Muslim comments, Islamophobia comments, racist comments” but she is not a supporter of Home Secretary Javid, accusing him of using “dog whistle” politics.
Interviewed on BBC’s Newsnight she said “However much he panders to the right of our party, sadly the right of our party believe he’s far too Muslim to be the leader of our party.”
Warsi has campaigned against Islamophobia in the Tory party for the last three years and raised the issue with the Tory party chairman and Prime Minister. She complained they are “Turning a blind eye to this, they have just simply hoped it would go away.” Given the failure of the Tory chairman and the Prime Minister to tackle this issue, Lady Warsi has called on the Tory party Chief Executive to tackle it.
The following day a Tory Muslim, Amir Sadjady, said that he had been repeatedly told not to raise the issue after he kept failing to be selected for a local council seat in London last year. Amir said the Tories London mayoral candidate for the 2020 election, Shaun Bailey, had told him to “Suck it up”. Bailey denied using this phrase.
Amir said “There is prejudice against Islam in the Conservatives, one hundred percent partly driven by the right-wing media… They either ignore you or don’t select you, or bully you out. There is definitely Islamophobia there.”
The Tory mayor of East Staffordshire has resigned from the party after allegations that he had liked a social media post depicting London’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, being beheaded by the Queen. Another Tory councillor was suspended after reposting an image that compared a veiled woman and child to two black bin bags. Controversy erupted when he was reinstated in the Tory party.
Ignoring these Islamophobic instances the Tory party is still refusing to have an independent enquiry into Islamophobia in its ranks. Amir has said he first raised the issue when he failed to get selected for a winnable seat in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in last year’s local election. He stated, as quoted by the Guardian, “No black or ethnic minority candidates were chosen in winnable seats, and if you look at those who were eventually elected, they were all white.” He made clear his party is not ethnically representative. Amir met with Tory party officials last summer but nothing was done and he was told to keep quiet about the issue.
Amir said the Tory leadership “should be doing a hell of a lot more to tackle the serious problem that exists within this party.” The Muslim Council of Britain said Amir and others who have suffered Islamophobia must be allowed to report these incidents to an independent enquiry: “Asking party activists not to raise their concerns of racism and Islamophobia, apparently for political reasons, is a shameful attempt at silencing.”
Lady Warsi has been denied support from Conservative MPs in her campaign to tackle the problem with one former Tory minister anonymously saying “I don’t believe we have that big a problem.” Tory party Chairman Brandon Lewis said on Twitter that Warsi was “Missing out on key facts’ about the party’s ‘clear process… and swift action.” Warsi has suffered vicious abuse but her party continues to deny the scale of the problem.
The Chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, Mohammed Amin, said he had long been urging the party to take more action to tackle Islamophobia, but Tory HQ made it clear there will be no independent inquiry into Islamophobia. Amin responded “the party leadership is still in that stage of wishing that the issue would go away… Every day when local councillors issue social media tweets denigrating Muslims and sometimes MPs retweet these things… essentially every time things like that happen the position of the Conservative party with British Muslims takes a step backwards. It is electorally damaging to the party.”
He went on to say that the Tory attitude to Muslims had “gone backwards” since Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for the London mayoralty, when the Tory party tried to smear Labour’s candidate Sadiq Khan as being linked to Muslim terrorists.
Anna Soubry, one of the three Tory MPs to quit the party last month over Brexit, who was chair of the all-party Parliamentary group on British Muslims said she would not go so far as to say the party was “institutionally Islamophobic” but there were too many instances where Tories spreading Islamophobia had not been booted out. She said: “This unwillingness to grasp the problem and root it out comes from a lack of leadership and facing up to the fact that there are a significant number of Conservative members with publicly stated views that are odious and offensive.”
She was supported by the director of the anti-racist charity Hope Not Hate, Matthew McGregor, who said there were signs that the Tories had wilful blindness about Islamophobic views in their rank and file. Hope Not Hate conducted a survey which showed forty-nine percent of Conservative voters see Islam as a threat to the British way of life and forty-seven percent believe there are no-go areas where Sharia law dominates.
Islamophobia doesn’t just exist in the Tory party as was revealed by a report in the Guardian that many landlords refuse to let properties to Muslims. The Muslim Council of Britain wants all political parties to stand up to incidents such as the racist bullying of a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in Huddersfield. The cross-party committee of MPs said that “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” The all-party committee held meetings up and down Britain and recorded a disturbing level of Islamophobic incidents including physical and verbal abuse.
With London’s next mayoral election just over a year away it doesn’t look as though things will be getting better. The Tory candidate, Shaun Bailey, who is himself a descendant of black immigrants, wrote back in 2005 “You bring your children to school and they learn far more about Diwali than Christmas. I speak to the people who are from Brent and they’ve been having Muslim and Hindu days off. What it does is rob Britain of its community. Without our community we slip into a crime-riddled cesspool. There are a lot of really good things about Britain as a place and British people as a body, but by removing the religion that British people generally take to, by removing the ethics that generally go with it, we’ve allowed people to come to Britain and bring their culture, their country and any problems they might have with them.” Bailey continued “Within the black community it is not such a bad thing because we’ve shared a religion and in many cases a language. It’s far easier for black people to integrate.” Bailey wrote this article 13 years ago in the thinktank pamphlet No Man’s Land.
Prime Minister Theresa May seems to have no concern about what Bailey wrote as she gave him a full endorsement at last year’s Tory conference, claiming that Bailey whose “grandparents came to our shores as part of the Windrush generation… could be elected the next mayor of London.” Previously Bailey was an adviser to Tory Prime Minister David Cameron.
The London Labour MP, Andy Slaughter, who beat Bailey in the 2010 general election, said “It is increasingly clear that he holds views that are at best divisive and at worst Islamophobic. London went through this once before with Zac Goldsmith’s hideous campaign for mayor and quite frankly we deserve much better.”
The Tory campaign against Sadiq Khan in 2016 did not just try and link him to Muslim terrorists but gave out leaflets to Hindu voters warning that Khan would introduce a tax on their jewellery if he won the mayoralty.
I call on Bailey to ensure that his campaign does not stir up Islamophobia and hatred in the months to come. London has a record of tolerance between its communities and we don’t want that undermined.