Conservative Party faces growing pressure to tackle Islamophobia

Twitter account provides evidence of anti-Muslim hate speech from Tory party members

Britain's Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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The chairman of Britain’s Conservative Party is facing accusations of inconsistency over his response to Islamophobia by lawmakers and party members.

Organisers of a Twitter account that collects screenshots of anti-Muslim hate speech by party members used the platform to claim that chairman Brandon Lewis was picking and choosing targets when he announced the suspension of Tory members.

“Brandon Lewis frequently confirms the suspension of specific members when it suits him,” wrote @matesjacob on Twitter.

Separately two Conservative association chairs, Ajay Jagota and Gerard Leake, accused party chair Brandon Lewis and the CCHQ complaints department of failing to take action against a Tory councillor who is alleged to have made an anti-Muslim remark.

According to leaked emails obtained by Buzzfeed, the Prime Minister's office intervened in the handling of the complaints. On behalf of the Conservative leader, staff issued a private apology to Mr Jagota.
The Twitter account has highlighted anti-Muslim comments made 10 party members on social media. Comments made range from members saying that no Muslim would get their vote, to the UK having "succumbed to a Muslim invasion".

Another party member made comments on Facebook suggesting that she would back Boris Johnson as leader on the basis of religious prejudice.

“I’ll be able to have a say if it does come to those two”, said the party member on Facebook, in reference to a two-horse race between Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid.

Another member, who photographed himself with Boris Johnson in 2015, once wrote that he was “going through a few magazines the other day down at the local mosque … then the rifle jammed”.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has also been seen at the top of the Conservative hierarchy.

In August 2018, former Mayor of London Boris Johnson was reported to the Equalities Commission after comparing Muslim women to masked bank robbers. Johnson has a history of Islamophobic comments; in a written piece for The Spectator in 2005, he wrote that “Islam is the problem”.

"It will take a huge effort of courage and skill to win round the many thousands of British Muslims who are in a similar state of alienation, and to make them see that their faith must be compatible with British values and with loyalty to Britain," he wrote.

"That means disposing of the first taboo, and accepting that the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem."

Sayeeda Warsi, Britain’s first Muslim woman cabinet minister, has in recent weeks said that the governing party had become “institutionally Islamophobic” and accused Prime Minister Theresa May of “burying her head in the sand”. Fourteen Conservative Party members were suspended for Islamophobic Facebook posts after Warsi’s comments gained traction.

A report by anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate found Conservative voters are more likely to have anti-Muslim views compared to voters from other British political parties.

A 2018 YouGov survey commissioned by the group asked voters if Islam was generally compatible with the British way of life. Just under half of the Conservative voters agreed it was a threat, compared to 22% of Labour voters.

“Conservative voters are not the only Britons to see Muslims as a distinct homogenous group, set apart from wider society. The effects of terror attacks and assimilationist rhetoric that distinguishes Muslims as a culturally-distinct outgroup have hardened hostile attitudes among those already predisposed to prejudice across Britain,” added Hope Not Hate.