Investigation into Tory party reveals: 68% of complaints about anti-Muslim discrimination

68% of complaints recorded by Conservative Party Headquarters (CCHQ) relate to anti-Muslim discrimination

The results of an enquiry, ordered by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in December 2019 were published today. This independent review set out to look into complaints of Islamophobia made to the Conservative party as far back as 2015. It concluded that there was a strong undercurrent of anti-Muslim sentiment at both grassroots and individual levels. The independent review was led by Professor Swaran Singh.

When Professor Singh was first announced as the chair of the inquiry, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi called his independence into question in a series of tweets, due largely to comments which he had previously made about Kashmir.

Others were concerned that in an article about his own experiences of racism in the UK he had written that is was: “also not right to expect the UK to live up to an unrealistic standard, where every individual is non-racist”.

Baroness Warsi’s objections to the review, as well as those raised by the MCB are mentioned in the report. Many Muslims take issue with the terms of the review itself as well as with its definition of Islamophobia.

The report found that:

  • 727 incidents have been reported to CCHQ citing at least one Protected Characteristics between 2015 and 2020 in a Party with an estimated membership of 200,000
  • The majority (68%) of complaints recorded in CCHQ’s database relate to anti-Muslim discrimination. Three-quarters (74%) relate to social media activity
  • An overwhelming majority of valid complaints were upheld and resulted in a sanction

Conservative Party’s response is ‘driven by media attention’

The report found that: “The Party’s approach to challenging discrimination has been reactive, driven by media attention rather than by the seriousness of the allegations themselves, and has focused on ‘firefighting’ rather than on action as part of a clear strategic vision and plan.”

What does the report say about the behaviour of Boris Johnson and Lord Zac Goldsmith?

The report focuses on a number of complaints, some related to prominent members of the Conservative Party. It concludes that:

“High-profile incidents, such as remarks made during Lord Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign and Prime Minster Boris Johnson’s comments on Muslim women in burqas (prior to him becoming Prime Minister), give the impression to many that the Party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities”

Boris Johnson has a long history of making offensive remarks towards Muslims – in 2018, Mr Johnson, in a Telegraph newspaper column, wrote that Muslim women wearing burqas look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

The report also considered the conduct of Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for London Mayor, when he ran against Sadiq Khan in 2016.

In the report, Lord Goldsmith is quoted as saying: “We’re not a safe place for Islamophobes but that’s not to say we don’t attract them.”

As Muslims, many of us will not feel reassured by the excuses that these two high-profile politicians gave to the enquiry.

Zac Goldsmith’s excuse:

“During the Mayoral campaign I believed that it was important to hold Sadiq Khan to account for his record of associating with extremists, in particular Islamists. I never believed that Sadiq himself was an extremist. Nor did I or my campaign ever suggest that that he was.”

The report says that he accepts poor judgement in the way his campaign was conducted but forcefully denies harbouring anti- Muslim sentiments or using such sentiments for political advantage.

As for Boris Johnson, here’s his excuse:

“I do know that offence has been taken at things I’ve said, that people expect a person in my position to get things right, but in journalism you need to use language freely. I am obviously sorry for any offence taken. Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not.”

Key findings of the report:

  • Over the six years 2015 to 2020 (inclusive), the Party’s central database recorded 1,418 complaints concerning 727 incidents of alleged discrimination
  • Two-thirds of all incidents reported to the Complaints Team at Party headquarters (“CCHQ”), related to allegations of anti-Muslim discrimination
  • Three-quarters of all incidents recorded in the complaints database at CCHQ involved social media activity
  • Anti-Muslim sentiment has been evidenced at local association and individual levels, as demonstrated by a number of social media complaints against Party members which were upheld by the Complaints Process
  • There is clear evidence of a Party complaints system in need of overhaul
  • There has been a lack of transparency in the complaints process
  • Systems for identifying discrimination and the handling of complaints at local Party association level are weak
  • There is no evidence that complaints related to Islam are treated differently from those related to other forms of discrimination

What should happen now:

The party has to act. This is what the report recommends.

Within six weeks, the Party should review its investigations into the cases included in this Report where the Investigation has found that the complaints process has fallen short. Within six months, the Party should have identified lessons to be learned from these cases and, where appropriate, reached a resolution.”

As Muslims, we all hope that these findings will be taken seriously and will result in meaningful change.


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