Having faced extensive criticism in regards to their failure in tackling Islamophobia within the organisation, an independent inquiry was launched at the end of 2019 in order to investigate increasing allegations against the British Conservative party. However, two of those appointed to lead the inquiry, Professor Swaran Singh (inquiry chair) and Wasiq Wasiq, were openly criticised for their own stances. Singh himself had expressed Islamophobic views publicly, and Wasiq was an advocate for the term Islamophobia to be “junked” because he believed it was being used in an attempt to create a modern-day blasphemy law1. Viewing these appointments with scepticism, many campaigners against Islamophobia raised concerns over the supposed independence of the inquiry and considered it to be a flawed endeavour from the start. On Tuesday 25th May – two years after the leading five candidates for Conservative leadership committed to an independent inquiry – the report titled “Independent Investigation into Alleged Discrimination, Citing Protected Characteristics within the Conservative and Unionist Party in England, Wales and Northern Ireland”2 was released.
The Inquiry Findings and Responses
The 44,000-word report by Singh and his team analysed a total of 1,418 complaints relating to 727 separate incidents recorded within the Conservative party database between the years 2015 and 20203, the majority of which occurred through social media. It is documented in the report that two-thirds of the complaints received by the Conservative party related specifically to anti-Muslim sentiment, and that anti-Muslim sentiment did indeed exist within local level Conservative associations4.
Some senior Conservative party members were specifically mentioned and critiqued throughout the document. For example, current UK Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Boris Johnston was criticised for his 2018 Daily Telegraph column in which he likened women wearing Burqa’s as “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”5. The then Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, Mohammed Amin, considered the article at the time to be “anti-Muslim” and a deplorable piece for Johnson to have written. Stating that he was “sorry for any offence taken” by his column, he stopped short of a full apology by adding that he would not use “offending language” now is is prime minister6. Other high profile incidents, such as remarks made by Lord Goldsmith during his mayoral campaign were mentioned. Mohammad Amin noted that Goldsmith’s comments towards Sadiq Khan’s campaign were not only a pivotal moment in deterring Muslim voters from supporting the conservative party, but also attracted new voting members who were more prejudiced7. According to the report, these types of incidents “give the impression to many that the party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities”8.
Focussing particularly on the complaints procedure within the party, the report urged for a complete overhaul of its system, the re-opening cases that have fallen short of expected standards, and meaningful community outreach . According to Singh the team dealing with complaints was not only incredibly under-resourced and inadequately trained, but there was also a lack of transparency within complaints processes at both a national and local level9. Amanda Milling, co-chair of the party publicly stated that all the recommendations made by Singh’s report would be accepted and a plan of implementation will be published in six weeks time10. She went on to further apologise to anyone who had been “hurt by discriminatory behaviour of others or by our failed system” and the Conservatives would endeavour to work harder to stamp out discrimination of all kinds within the party.
Whilst some, such as Mohammad Amin – who himself gave evidence to the review – praised Singh on an “excellent job” with the inquiry and the report11, it has received much backlash and criticism in regards to some of its findings. According to the report there was “no evidence” that complaints relating to Islam were treated any differently to other forms of discrimination in the party, and allegations of “institutional racism” against the Conservatives – such as those made by former Conservative chair Baroness Warsi – were not evidenced in any findings during the inquiry11,12. In response to the report findings Baroness Warsi tweeted: “The detail of this report is crucial and tells a story that headlines do not. Each section reveals a deep and embedded issue of a party at best unable and at worst unwilling to deal with the issue of racism”. Warsi, also publicly stated that the findings clearly show the party to be institutionally racist when based upon the definition of institutional racism. “The way I see it” she argues is that “if it looks like institutional racism, feels like institutional racism, fits the definition of institutional racism – then, I’m afraid it is”13.
Sajjad Karim, who served as a Conservative MEP similarly argued that “the manner in which this inquiry has been conducted means it is nothing but an attempt to whitewash deep-rooted issues out of sight”14. In other words it does not consider Islamophobia to be a serious systemic issue, but instead one to be pushed aside. Miqdaad Versi, a spokesperson of the Muslim Council of Britain, again added that the investigation failed to “diagnose the root causes of the sheer scale of racist incidents it identified”15. However, for Versi, important recommendations were made by the report, which were also in line with those proposed by the Muslim Council of Britain. This more holistic approach will not be easy for the party and there is of course the possibility they will focus on cosmetic changes to complaints procedures, codes of conducts and tick-boxing exercises. This would not only fall short of the recommendations made by the Muslim Council of Britain included in the reports appendix, but would fail to take the “historic opportunity to do the right thing”16, according to Singh.
What remains to be seen in the coming six weeks therefore, is the active and meaningful systemic change that is required through the Conservatives proposed plan of implementation.