–Former party chair claims Tories are in denial about the problem within their ranks
LONDON: Sayeeda Warsi has called on the Conservatives to launch a “full independent inquiry” into Islamophobia in the party and warned the Tories were pursuing a politically damaging policy of denial about the problem in its own ranks.
The former Conservative party chair accused incumbent Brandon Lewis of a “woefully inept” response to recent complaints and added that MP Zac Goldsmith should receive “mandatory diversity training” following his unsuccessful attempt to beat Sadiq Khan to the London mayoralty.
Writing for the Guardian, Lady Warsi said: “I’ve been warning my party of its ‘Muslim problem’ for far too long,” and said that elite indifference to the issue meant the Tories were stuck with a political strategy that amounted little more than “fuck the Muslims”.
Warsi’s comments come a week after the Muslim Council of Britain repeated its call for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia, complaining that Lewis had failed to respond to a dossier of complaints it had submitted and was hoping that the issue would “magically go away”.
The peer warned that the Conservatives needed to learn lessons from Labour’s antisemitism row and complained that she had repeatedly raised the issue over the past three years – including writing to Theresa May – but added: “absolutely nothing tangible has happened”.
“For years I’ve argued that an internal inquiry was the solution to this mess. Unfortunately, the time for that has now long passed. As a plethora of people and organisations have now 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,” Warsi wrote.
The peer singled out Goldsmith’s controversial mayoral campaign in 2016. He was accused of running a smear campaign after his team put out leaflets claiming that his Muslim rival Khan supported “a wealth tax on family jewellery”.
Warsi said: “Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for London mayor was made possible precisely because the party didn’t care about Muslims and ignored their concerns.” She said she had asked colleagues at a meeting of the party’s backbench 1922 committee last year “if they could assure me we would move on from the era of ‘fuck the Muslims’”. She added: “I think I got my point across.”
In response to the complaints, Lewis has announced that the party would make diversity training available to those who wanted it. Warsi said it should be made mandatory for anybody who has been complained about, including Goldsmith who she said should “receive preferential enrolment”.
Warsi also referred to a second Tory MP, Bob Blackman, as somebody who also needed diversity training. He retweeted a post by former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson in 2016 and shared an item from an anti-Muslim website earlier this year. He has previously said that he had shared the Robinson post in error and had swiftly removed the Facebook post and apologised.
Lewis has said that the Conservatives will work with hate-crime reporting service Tell Mama to deal with future problems. But Warsi said this response was hard to understand. “Whilst I believe the issue within the party is serious, no one is suggesting that Conservative members are committing ‘hate crimes’. Systemic prejudice is far more subtle. It passes the dinner table test but will rarely reach the level at which the police can prosecute,” she said.
Last week, May was pressed on the issue of Islamophobia by Labour MP Afzal Khan at prime minister’s questions. The prime minister 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 Tell Mama. “We investigate any allegations of Islamophobia that are made relating to members of the party,” she said.