Tories have failed to act on Islamophobia. Time for Equalities Commission to investigate by Peter Oborne

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Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends a press conference on public sector pay at Downing Street in London, Britain on 13 July, 2023 (Reuters)

The failure to act on the Singh report two years on shows that the Tory party has no appetite to deal with the Islamophobia now poisoning UK public lifeThe British Conservative party has mutated over the last two decades.

At the start of the century, it could reasonably claim to represent decent middle-England voters. Today, it’s turned into something much nastier. 

The party has become too close for comfort to Viktor Orban’s Fidesz of Hungry, the German far-right party AFD, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud of Israel or Narendra Modi’s BJP of India.

Contemptuous of the rule of law. Populist. Flirting with the far right. Often contemptuous of minorities and, in particular, deeply hostile to Muslims.

In short, it is a party of bigots.

poll published in 2020 by the anti-racist group Hope Not Hate showed that more than half of the Conservative Party members thought Islam was “generally a threat to the British way of life“.

The party membership embraced sinister conspiracy theories. A 2019 YouGov poll unveiled the chilling finding that two-thirds of Tory members believed parts of Britain operated under sharia law

Almost half believed in the myth of no-go zones where “non-Muslims are not able to enter”. These attitudes were exploited by senior Tories, with then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson especially notorious for his bigoted language against Muslims.

Disgusting statements

There was also a massive problem with Islamophobic bigotry among the Tory grassroots, as the Muslim Council of Britain proved beyond doubt in 2020 when it provided a list of more than 100 cases involving party members, councillors and officials. 

They had made disgusting statements about Muslims, calling for them to leave the country, making provocative insults about the Prophet Muhammad, and peddling malicious lies.

Tory Islamophobia: You can’t find what you aren’t looking for

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Three years ago, pressure began to mount for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate Islamophobia inside the Conservative Party.

In what looked like an attempt to head it off, the Conservatives responded by commissioning a supposedly independent report into Islamophobia (and other forms of discrimination) within its ranks, conducted by Professor Swaran Singh of the University of Warwick.

This was a very odd announcement. The term Islamophobia appeared in quotation marks in the Tory party inquiry’s terms of reference – strongly suggesting that the Tories are flirting with the idea, popular even in respectable Conservative circles, that Islamophobia doesn’t exist. 

It was no surprise, therefore, when the Singh report appeared two years ago, that it largely steered clear of issues of institutional racism and, in particular, Islamophobia, as Zainab Gulamali pointed out in Middle East Eye at the time.

Devastating report

Though Singh neglected the major problems, he did deal capably with matters of due process. In particular, he addressed the repeated failures of the complaints system, and made recommendations for improvement. 

Hence the very grave importance of Singh’s review of the Tory party’s implementation of his report recommendations.

More than two years after Singh’s report dropped on the desk of the Conservatives, he finds that party officials are taking ‘forever’ to focus on his recommendations

More than two years after his report dropped on the desk of the Tory party, he finds that party officials are taking “forever” to focus on his recommendations.

He additionally notes that “there remains a gap between the good intentions of the party leadership and lasting change at the grassroots level, and a number of important areas still need to be addressed”.

Even accepting Singh’s mysterious and unevidenced claim that the Tory leadership has “good intentions” when it comes to Muslims, his report is devastating.

Singh makes excuses for the Tories, noting that the party has been through turmoil for the last few years.

These excuses do not carry weight – just imagine the mockery that Labour would have faced if it had used such an excuse over antisemitism allegations.

Poison of Tory Islamophobia

In truth, the Singh report shows that the Tory party – whether under Boris Johnson, Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak – has proven itself to be incapable of dealing with the Islamophobia that now poisons public life in Britain.

The poison of Tory Islamophobia is especially important because the party is in power, and its hostility towards Muslims repeatedly feeds into public policy.

Britain's Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, Michael Gove gives an interview outside the BBC studios in central London on January 29, 2023 (AFP)
The so-called Trojan Horse affair has now been exposed as a state-sponsored hoaxled by the Tory cabinet minister Michael Gove, targeting vulnerable Muslim minorities in Birmingham (AFP)

There are serious examples of this. The so-called Trojan Horse affair has now been exposed as a state-sponsored hoax, led by the Tory cabinet minister Michael Gove, targeting vulnerable Muslim minorities in Birmingham. 

The bizarre choice of William Shawcross, in light of his controversial views on Islam, to review the Prevent Strategy is another example.

The systemic failure of Tory ministers to address the closure of Muslim bank accounts is another case in point, and especially topical in the light of Nigel Farage’s complaint that Coutts Bank had done the same to him.

It’s always been perplexing that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, so fast to act when allegations of antisemitism were made against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, has been reluctant to investigate the grave Tory problem with Muslims.

More than two years have passed since the Singh review told the Conservative Party to clean up its act.

It has been unable to do so, and therefore now is the moment for the EHRC to step in.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book is The Fate of Abraham: Why the West is Wrong about Islam, published in May by Simon & Schuster. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism.
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