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British Tories are morphing into a party of bigots

New report from the Muslim Council of Britain details a disturbing culture of Islamophobia - yet the media silence is deafening
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in London on 3 March (AFP)

On Thursday, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the UK’s leading Muslim representative body, published a long and superbly researched document setting out the nature and scale of anti-Muslim bigotry inside the British Conservative Party. 

I have read the report with great care. It proves that the Conservative Party has changed. It is no longer the moderate, decent party that has governed Britain for much of the past two centuries. 

Instead, it is on the way to becoming a party of bigots. 

Compelling evidence

Don’t get me wrong. There are still decent men and women inside the Conservative Party. It is not a far-right, racist, neo-Nazi mob, such as Alternative for Germany - but it is moving ominously in that direction. The evidence presented by the MCB is very powerful and, as far as I can see, irrefutable. 

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is already too close for comfort to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz, Hungary's ruling party, and US President Donald Trump’s Republican party. 

The problem stretches from the lowest ranks of the Tory party to the very top

The problem stretches from the lowest ranks of the Tory party to the very top. There is a massive problem with Islamophobic bigotry among Tory grassroots, where the MCB has provided a list of more than 100 cases

Party members, councillors and officials have repeatedly made disgusting statements about Muslims, calling for them to leave the country, making provocative insults about the Prophet Muhammad and peddling malicious lies.

This should not come as any surprise to anyone, since poll results published by the anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate last year showed that more than half of Conservative members thought Islam was “generally a threat to the British way of life”.

Party-wide problem

The problem is not confined to lower parts of the membership. MCB produced a list of 16 parliamentarians who have disseminated or promoted anti-Muslim content. 

Some of these cases were already known. I’ve written before in Middle East Eye about Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, who shared an anti-Muslim post by Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League; hosted the anti-Muslim Tapan Ghosh, the right-wing Hindu nationalist; and shared far-right and Islamophobic content on Facebook

Anti-Muslim bigotry is not a barrier to promotion. Nadine Dorries, who also shared a tweet by Robinson, is now a health minister. This is no surprise, given that Johnson himself has a long record of making anti-Muslim remarks. 

Protesters demonstrate against far-right figure Tommy Robinson in London in August 2019 (AFP)
Protesters demonstrate against far-right figure Tommy Robinson in London in August 2019 (AFP)

According to Tell MAMA, there was a 375 percent spike in anti-Muslim incidents in the week after Johnson compared women who wear the niqab to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” in a column for the Daily Telegraph.

Tellingly, Johnson is surrounded by Islamophobes. Dominic Cummings, his most senior advisor, reportedly had overall responsibility for The Spectator website in 2006, according to Stuart Reid, the magazine’s acting editor at the time, when a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban was posted on the site.

One of Johnson’s up-and-coming advisors is Chloe Westley. She praised Anne Marie Waters, leader of the anti-Islam party For Britain, as a “hero”, even though Waters has called Islam “evil” and also has links to Robinson. 

Media silence

The MCB report, therefore, has no difficulty dismantling claims by Johnson (and other leading Conservatives) that Islamophobia is dealt with robustly. Indeed, it shows that while in other spheres the Tory party is quite capable of handling complaints effectively and honestly, it fails to take anti-Islamic bigotry with the seriousness it deserves. 

Tory Islamophobia is rampant and the party is in denial
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The report notes that there have been “a number of occasions where individuals have been suspended and then secretly readmitted into the party”.

It is a very long and detailed document containing a mass of material, only a tiny proportion of which I have been able to address in this column. 

But it doesn’t take any imagination to envisage how such a document would have been treated by the British press had it involved accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party. Most newspapers would have splashed it, along with substantial inside reporting and case studies. 

So I had a look at today’s newspapers. I could find nothing at all about the MCB report in the Financial Times or Daily Telegraph. There were seven paragraphs on page 16 of the Times and 11 paragraphs on page 7 of the Guardian. Nothing in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, or the Sun. 

A free pass

One doesn’t have to cast around far to explain this Fleet Street's lack of interest about Tory Islamophobia. Most British newspapers are as Islamophobic as the Conservative Party itself, and in some cases, more so. This means they are effectively giving Johnson and his senior advisers and ministers a free pass to reshape the Tory party as a far-right, populist organisation of the type we already know too well on continental Europe. 

Ordinary, decent Tory members … have failed to challenge the poisonous culture of bigotry

The same applies to ordinary, decent Tory members who have failed to challenge the poisonous culture of bigotry that infects too many of Johnson’s Tories. It’s well past time they spoke out. 

The same applies to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This organisation is rightly investigating antisemitism inside the Labour Party. Its failure to respond to overwhelming evidence that the Tory party has a very serious problem with Islamophobia is nothing short of baffling.

On Friday, the LBC radio presenter James O’Brien tweeted that “Reaction to this scandal will provide a very useful gauge of just how sincere some attitudes to Labour’s antisemitism scandal might have been." 

He has a fair point. 

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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