Pressure rising on UK Conservatives over Islamophobia inquiry

Warsi called on Britain’s largest party to launch a ‘full independent inquiry’ into the issue of Islamophobia.
Thursday 05/07/2018
A file picture showing then Chairman of Britain’s Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi, delivering a speech in Birmingham, in 2010. (AFP)
A file picture showing then Chairman of Britain’s Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi, delivering a speech in Birmingham, in 2010. (AFP)

LONDON - Pressure is rising on Britain’s Conservative Party to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia following recent comments by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the former Conservative party chair.

Writing for the Guardian on July 4, Warsi called on Britain’s largest party to launch a “full independent inquiry” into the issue of Islamophobia. Warsi’s call comes less than two months after the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) – Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella group – first called for a formal inquiry into Islamophobia and just weeks after more than 350 mosques and Muslim organisations wrote to the Conservative party backing the calls.

“For years I have argued that an internal inquiry was the solution to this mess. Unfortunately the time for that has now long passed,” Warsi wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian. “As a plethora of people and organisations have said, only with a full, independent inquiry can we truly become the party we claim to be: one that deplores prejudice in all its forms and stamps it out wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.”

British Muslims have pointed to a number of alleged incidents of Islamophobia among Conservative members and candidates, including MP Bob Blackman sharing tweets by far-right activists and his membership of an anti-Muslim Facebook group.

The issue of  seemed to come to a head during the 2016 London mayoral election, when Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith was accused of using Islamophobic “dog whistles” while running against Labour’s Sadiq Khan.

“Zac Goldsmith’s 2016 campaign for London mayor was made possible precisely because the party didn’t care about Muslims and ignored their concerns,” Warsi said.

“The party needs to be proactive and change its culture. The availability of non-mandatory diversity training is not enough. Those who are most likely to offend will not be inclined to take part. The training should be compulsory for at least those about whom concerns have been raised. I’d suggest Goldsmith and Blackman receive preferential enrolment,” she added.

Warsi’s is just the latest voice calling for a formal inquiry into allegations of Islamophobia inside the Conservative Party. Following the MCB’s initial call for a full inquiry into “more than weekly occurrences of Islamophobia from candidates and representatives of the [Conservative] party,” 11 separate umbrella organisations from all across the UK – including Wales, Belfast, Scotland and Manchester – backed the calls.

While Lord Mohamed Sheikh, a Muslim Tory peer who served as an adviser to former Prime Minister David Cameron, also said the Conservatives should move to hold an inquiry, writing to Prime Minister Theresa May to describe the issue as a “matter of grave concern to the many Muslim members and supporters of the party.”

“We very much welcome the many councils of mosques who have written in support of our call for an inquiry into this issue,” an MCB spokesman said. “It reflects the importance that this issue holds in Muslim communities across the UK and the breadth of support for the MCB.”

The calls are increasingly gaining pace, despite some signs that the party is seeking to reform its image among Muslims, including with the appointment of Sajid Javid as Home Secretary in April.  

May was posed with a question on Islamophobia within her party during prime minister’s questions last week from Labour MP Afzal Khan. May said that “anti-Muslim discrimination is wrong; there is no place for it in our society”, and highlighted that the party had introduced a new code of conduct and had met with Tell MAMA, a national campaign that records anti-Muslim incidents. “We investigate any allegations of Islamophobia that are made relating to members of the party,” May said.