Fourteen members of the Conservative Party have been suspended after making comments on a Facebook group that included “turf all Muslims out of public office”, “send [Muslims] home” and that Muslims are “here to destroy us”. Another controversy related to Islamophobia came up this week when Peter Lamb, a Conservative candidate who was due to stand in the local elections taking place in May quit the party when it came to light that he was previously suspended from the party after posting a series of tweets in 2015 that included “Islam like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.” These latest incidents add to a build up of accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. Local members have written to party chairman Brandon Lewis and local party officials claiming there is “compelling evidence” that minority ethnic members were being bullied, racially abused and cut out of communications to ensure they were not chosen to represent the party, with a number of allegations of racism, racial slurs, and racial profiling in meetings also provided.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former party chairman, and who has previously called for an inquiry into the issue, has described the Islamophobia within the party as not simply individual but “institutional”, saying to the BBC that “”We have a deep-rooted problem of anti-Muslim comments, Islamophobic comments, racist comments that are being made right from the top – from MPs through to councillors, council candidates, members, linked groups.”
On Twitter, she wrote:
I cannot fight this fight alone 😢
I have written to Sir Mick Davis Chief Executive and Treasurer @Conservatives to stand by me and show leadership where @BrandonLewis @theresa_may have failed.#askingforallies
— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) March 5, 2019
Directly responding to the tweet in which he was named, party chairman Brandon Lewis told Warsi:
You are missing out on key facts: we have a clear process, we deal with all cases & have taken swift action.
— Brandon Lewis (@BrandonLewis) March 5, 2019
To which Warsi pointed out that Peter Lamb was still considered an appropriate council candidate despite his history.
In general, the Conservative Party has responded to these accusations with what Rowena Mason, Deputy Political editor at The Guardian, has described as a “deafening silence”. Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, has been strongly criticised for, in response to Labour MP Naz Shah calling in parliament for a Commons debate on defining Islamophobia amidst concerns of the problem within the governing party, suggested it was a matter for the Foreign Office. Her spokesperson has seen clarified that she believed Shah was referring to a “global definition” of Islamophobia and that “any form of Islamophobia in the UK would be dealt with swiftly by Home Office.”
For the most part, it appears this is a battle that Muslim figures within the Conservative Party are having to take on by themselves. Mohamed Amin, Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum suggested the party was still in denial, calling the position of the party with British Muslims “a step backwards” and “electorally damaging”. Pointing not only to the behaviour online by local councillors, but Zac Goldsmith’s dog whistle campaign in the 2016 London Mayoral elections against his then Muslim opponent Sadiq Khan and Former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson’s public comparison of Muslim women who wear the face veil to letterboxes. When asked, Children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi also spoke on BBC Radio 5 Live about how he was subjected to racist comments from a Conservative Party activist who suggested that he wasn’t an equal British citizen, the implication being because he was Muslim.
With her hashtag, #askingforallies, Warsi rallied up support on twitter to those sympathetic to her and the cause, with many on the other side of the political spectrum. Some have commented on the lack of coverage on the issue compared to the Anti-Semitism debate within the Labour party, and others expressing sympathy that Warsi is having to resort to a plea on twitter for support for an issue within her own Party. A Muslim Council of Britain spokesperson has said that the social media posts show that ““the scale of Islamophobia at all levels of the party is astonishing”, and repeated its call for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia within the party. Miqdad Versi, writing in the Guardian suggested that it is of note that “these sentiments appear at the same time as the Conservative party is being seen to be trying to placate the hard right.”