The cultural problem of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party

30 09 20

There continues to be widespread suspicion, prejudice and hostility towards Muslims amongst Conservative Party members and an almost total denial that the party has an Islamophobia problem, according to a poll of 1,213 party members carried out by YouGov for HOPE not hate between 13th-16th July 2020. The poll was conducted by the widely respected YouGov firm, set up by Conservative MP Nadim Zahawi in 2000, whose polling of Conservative Party members is gold standard and has been cited, or praised for their accuracy, by The Times[1], The Telegraph[2] and Conservative Home[3].

Conservative attitudes towards Muslims and Islam

This poll found that 57% of Conservative Party members had a negative attitude towards Muslims (rating 50 or below) when asked to rate their feeling towards religious minorities on a scale of 0 – 100 (with 0 being most negative and 100 most positive). 21% of members registered a very negative attitude (rating 20 or below). This compared with only 3% that registered very negative attitudes towards either Jews, Sikhs and Hindus.

Almost half of Conservative Party members (47%) believe that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life”, while 58% believed that “there are no go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”. This figure rose to 66% of those who backed Boris Johnson in the 2019 leadership election.

Over a third of Tory members thought that Islamist terrorists reflect a widespread hostility to Britain amongst the Muslim community, compared to 53% who thought it was wrong to blame all Muslims for the actions of a violent minority. Opinion was evenly divided amongst Johnson supporters, with 44% believing the former statement and 46% the latter.

When those that did feel Islam was a threat were asked to choose two reasons why (from a given list of talking points commonly found within anti-Islam rhetoric), 50% agreed with the statement ‘Islam breeds intolerance for free speech and calls for violent actions against those who mock, criticise or depict the religion in ways they believe are offensive’, 41% felt ‘Muslims don’t want to integrate’ and 41% agreed that ‘Islam promotes discrimination of and the physical abuse of women, for example the grooming of white British girls’, 24% that Muslim populations are growing at a rate many times faster than non-Muslim and will replace white British people.

Respondents were also able to answer ‘Other’, with 4% thus specifying their own reasons, which included: “All of the above.”, “Cruel & barbaric halal not appropriate in British society.”, “Islam seeks to replace British culture with its own.” And “Not compatible with British society and never has been.”

Conservative attitudes towards discrimination against Muslims

Almost twice as many party members (58% v 31%) believed that there is little or no discrimination against Muslims in Britain today. The gap widens to 67% v 26% amongst those who backed Johnson’s leadership bid. Only 6% thought that discrimination against Muslims was a serious problem, with this figure dropping to just 3% amongst Johnson supporters.

This figure is also out of kilter with the views of people who voted Conservative in 2019. When we asked the general public in our August Focaldata poll if they considered Islamophobia in Britain to be a problem, 14% of those who voted Conservative said it was a big problem, 32% said it was a moderate problem and 30% said a small problem. In total, 76% of those that voted Conservative in 2019 thought there were problems with Islamophobia in Britain in some form.

Conservative members attitudes far worse than the general public

The attitudes of Tory members were far worse than the public at large. When YouGov asked the same questions as the Conservative member survey, they found quite different, though still deeply worrying, results. Just under a third of the general public (30%) thought Islam was a threat to the British way of life (compared to 47% of Tory members), while 37% of the public thought that there were no go areas where non-Muslims could not enter (compared to 58% of Tory members). Conservative members were more than doubly as likely to think that Islamist terrorists reflect a widespread hostility to Britain amongst the Muslim community than in the national YouGov poll.

Attitudes towards Islamophobia within the Conservative Party

Conservative Party members refuse to believe that their party has a problem with Islamophobia, with 79% believing that there is no problem and just 9% thinking there is. Among Johnson supporters this grew to 86% and fell to 4% respectively.

Only one in six party members (17%) felt that the Conservative Party should be doing more to combat Islamophobia and other racism within the party, compared to 74% who believed that the party was already doing all it reasonably can. Johnson supporters split 8% and 85% respectively.

Attitudes to immigration, multiculturalism and race

Conservative Party members also hold negative attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism more generally.

Only 10% of party members think that British society is racist, with 84% disagreeing. This rises to 89% of those who backed Johnson in the leadership election, with just 7% believing that it is racist.

Members are evenly split as to whether having a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures is now part of British culture or whether it undermines British culture. This contrasts with our August Focaldata poll, which found that 70% believing that multiculturalism was part of British culture and just 30% believing it undermined it.

Asked whether multiculturalism has had a positive effect on the British economy, half of party members (51%) agree, with 30% believing it has had a negative effect and the remainder unsure. Asked about the effect on British culture, 56% think it has been negative, with just 36% believing it has been positive.

Just over half of Tory members (55%) think that “on the whole, immigration into Britain has been a good thing for the country”, but this is still some way off the 69% of the general public who think the same.

Tory members hold very strong views on British history and the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Only 7% support the removal of statues of historical figures with links to slavery from British towns and cities, and of these, only 2% support it strongly. By contrast, 84% oppose the removal of statues, with 66% strongly opposing it.

Amongst society as a while, 51% of people, in a poll of 2,010 people conducted by Focaldata for HOPE not hate in mid-June, believed that statues of slave traders should be removed from public squares and put in museums. Just a quarter of people (26%) disagreed.

Four in five party members (82%) think that white people are unfairly made to feel guilty for slavery, rising to 87% of Johnson supporters and 97% of members in Scotland.

There was very little difference in attitudes between genders, age groups or social class. However, the attitudes of young members and women were quite different from society at large. Young people are far more worried about Islamophobia and the discrimination Muslim face than older people, while men have more negative views than women in our national poll.

Attitudes amongst Tory members in most regions were fairly similar, though those in Scotland had more negative views to Muslims than most.

This poll confirms a previous poll HOPE not hate conducted of Tory members last year and helps explain the strong racist and anti-Muslim comments made by so many Conservative councilors and even MPs and the complete failure of the party to take action.

The polling also reminds us that tinkering with the party’s disciplinary processes will not really solve the problem, rather, what is required is a wholesale educational programme to tackle anti-Muslim perceptions and portray Muslims in a more positive light. And just as the case with Labour and its antisemitism problem, this requires true leadership – as well as the tightening of rules – and has to start at the top of the party. This is especially important as those members who voted for Boris Johnson in last year’s leadership election have substantially more negative views than those who back Jeremy Hunt.

[1] The Times: MRP election poll: Boris Johnson heads for big majority

[2] Telegraph: People laughed, but YouGov called this election right. This is how we did it

[3] Conservative Home: YouGov once again echoes the ConHome panel on May and Tory leadership


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