The Conservative Crisis Over Islamophobia

21 06 19
The data you are about to read came from a poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of HOPE not hate and released on the 24th June 2019.
After this poll was released, Prime Minister Theresa May responded by turning questions about the poll into a political attack on the Labour Party. Leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt has given a vague commitment to an inquiry into “all forms of prejudice” and the frontrunner for the Conservative leadership, Boris Johnson, reneged on his previous commitment to act.

HOPE not hate is today writing to the final two candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party to ask that they take steps to address the Islamophobia crisis facing the party.

New polling carried out exclusively for HOPE not hate shows that Conservative members – the very people who will decide who Britain’s next prime minister will be – show worrying beliefs in Islamophobic myths, don’t want a Muslim to be Prime Minister, and overwhelmingly reject even the very idea that the Conservative Party has a problem with this issue.

HOPE not hate is now calling on the two main Conservative leadership candidates, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, to stand by their commitment made at last week’s leadership debate to hold an independent, external investigation into Islamophobia in the party, and the party’s reaction to it. You can read the full letter to the two candidates on the HOPE not hate website.

Islamophobia is a clear problem among party members

Exclusive polling carried out by YouGov for HOPE not hate has revealed worrying levels of Islamophobia among Conservative Party members, as well as a shocking level of denial about the problems the party faces.

The poll was conducted by YouGov, with a total sample size of 864 adults. The fieldwork was undertaken between 14th – 18th June 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

While Conservative members believe that discrimination against Muslims is a big, rather than small, issue by 48% to 39%, members also buy into Islamophobic myths:

  • 67% believe the lie that “there are areas in Britain that operate under Sharia law”, as opposed to just 18% who do not believe this to be the case
  • 45% believe the lie that “there are areas in Britain in which non-Muslims are not able to enter”, as opposed to just 34% who do not believe this to be the case

Conservative members also show a high level of hostility to the Muslim community:

  • 39% of members believe that “Islamist terrorists reflect a widespread hostility to Britain amongst the Muslim community”
  • Just 8% of members agreed that “I would be proud of Britain if we were to elect a Muslim as our Prime Minister”, while 43% agreed that “I would prefer to not have the country led by a Muslim”
  • Conservative members are much more opposed to immigration from people from a Muslim background than from those of other faiths: just 3% say that immigration policy should be geared to higher Muslim immigration, compared to 12% for people fleeing war, 16% for Jewish people and 25% for Christians. While any legal immigrant should expect the same welcome, the fact that members view immigrants different according to their faith suggests an underlying prejudice
  • 40% of Tory Party members believe that we should lower the number of Muslims entering Britain, as opposed to just 5% who want to see fewer Christians or Jewish people enter the country.

These numbers underline the fact that the spate of media stories about Conservative members are not isolated incidents.

Given the anti-Muslim sentiments of huge numbers of members, it is not surprising to learn that they dismiss the recent spate of incidents of Islamophobia:

  • Just 8% of members think there is a problem of Islamophobia or racism towards Muslims within the Conservative Party. A massive 79% don’t think there is a problem
  • Only 15% of members think the Conservative Party should be doing more to combat any Islamophobia or other racism within the party, compared to 76% of members who think the party is “already doing all it reasonably can to combat Islamophobia and other racism within the party”.

Islamophobia is a problem from the grassroots to the great offices of state

It’s not just members of the party who have expressed Islamophobic views.

At the very top of the party, Boris Johnson infamously disparaged Muslim women as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. In the days after Johnson made his comments, Muslim women who wore the niqab reported having those words thrown at them as insults on public transport. Johnson has a track record of this sort derogatory and ignorant comment towards Muslims. In his Have I Got Views For You book, he wrote: “The proposed ban on incitement to “religious hatred” makes no sense unless it involves a ban on the Koran itself.”

Complaints about Islamophobia amongst leading activists and councillors have been piling up.

  • Members of Portsmouth South Association reported that “minority ethnic members were being bullied, racially abused and cut out of communications to ensure they were not chosen to represent the party” (The Guardian, 7 March 2019)
  • A Conservative Party member complained that another member had said: “I’m not working with that Muslim” (Buzzfeed News, 11 March 2019)
  • A member in the north east talked on social media about “aggressive muzzies” who he claimed were praying in public to “provoke a reaction” (HuffPost, 1 March 2019)
  • 25 members were suspended from the party in March, including a woman who said “no Muslim will get my vote” and another who vowed to “stand against the Islamification of our country” (Sky News, 18 March 2019)
  • Also in March, a Conservative councillor was suspended in Wellingborough over the ‘Boris Johnson Supporters Group’ Facebook group he moderated, which included posts calling for the bombing of mosques (The Independent, 2 March 2019)
  • Despite sharing anti-Muslim or far-right remarks on social media, 15 Tory councillors were quietly readmitted to the party after suspension, it emerged in March (PoliticsHome, 25 March 2019)
  • The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) submitted 20 pages of evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, calling for an inquiry and detailing “hundreds of cases” of Islamophobia in the party, talking of “fundamental failures in every single way” the party dealt with the issue (The Independent, 11 June 2019)
  • ITV News passed a dossier over to the Conservative Party of more than 100 alleged cases of Islamophobia by people claiming to be Conservative party members online, including comments claiming Islam was a “cult” that was taking over the UK and another calling it an “infestation” (ITV News, 17 May 2019).

Inaction in the face of Islamophobia is not an option

HOPE not hate calls out racism and hate wherever it occurs. This poll shows deeply troubling views amongst Conservative member, and the party cannot expect a free pass when there clear issues of racism within their ranks.

We want Boris Johnson and Michael Gove / Jeremy Hunt to show leadership by publicly and unambiguously committing to tackle this issue. They can do this by:

  1. Publicly acknowledging that there is a problem with Islamophobia in the Conservative Party
  2. Publicly commit to tackling it as the leader
  3. Establish an independent body to investigate Islamophobia in the party
  4. Agree to publish the definition of Islamophobia the party will use
  5. Agree to transparency in all disciplinary procedures

Specifically, the next leader of the party should ensure that some simple questions can be answered:

  • What definition of Islamophobia does the Conservative Party use in making judgements during disciplinary processes?
  • Who decides whether to refer a member for disciplinary consideration?
  • To whom are members referred to have their cases decided? Who sits on that committee or body? Who decides who sits on that committee or body?
  • Who decides on the measures taken against members who are deemed to have broken the party’s rules? Are these powers defined in writing?
  • Who decides on whether a member can be reinstated after suspension? On what grounds do they take those decisions?
  • How many complaints were made against members of the Conservative Party in 2018? How many of the cases were found to be proven? How many of those members were expelled from the party?

HOPE not hate extends the same offer we have made to other political parties: we’re ready to help in this process, and we have offered to meet with the new leader or his team to discuss plans to tackle this crisis once they are in office.

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