Fiyaz Mughal is the Founder and Director of Faith Matters and was the Founder of Tell MAMA, the national anti-Muslim hate monitoring service.
There is little that I can disagree with in Mohammed Amin’s articleon this site arlier this week about the state of anti-Muslim prejudice – and the impacts on the Conservative Party and its reputation. However, perhaps I can provide some further context on why and how the Conservatives have found themselves in a dire position in which they are being buffeted by charges of anti-Muslim hatred and racism, which is being levelled at some candidates and councillors and, as Amin suggests, occasionally at senior Tory MPs such as Boris Johnson.
I have met with the Conservative Party Chairman twice. Brandon Lewis genuinely cares about the need to tackle all forms of intolerance, including anti-Muslim hate. I have found him to be personable, and with a strong desire to tackle charges of anti-Muslim hatred that are levelled against Party members, though he has found himself having to work with local associations resistant to change or any sense of imposition from the Central Party, as well as Party rules that are archaic and blunt in dealing with complaints. On the latter, Lewis has taken direct control of the suspension and expulsion of Party members, though this required some rule changes, which in turn meant that the Party was viewed as dragging its heels when complaints were initially made.
Nonetheless, the management of charges of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim bigotry have been handled poorly, and have induced self-inflicted wounds by the Conservatives which need not have happened. It is evidently clear that the Conservatives have chosen to handle issues ‘internally’ – even when advice which I and others have given to them is to get independent groups to look at the systems and processes of affected local associations to review what works and what doesn’t. The Party machinery have listened, and then carried on being protective and internalised in their handling of issues, thereby disregarding the very principle that if you are not transparent, then the public will not trust what you say even when it may be true.
Next, the problems of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party do not compare to the systemic issues of antisemitism that traverse up and down the Labour Party. On the basis of numbers, complaints and the scale of the issue, the two issues within the two political parties do not match up. But this does not give the Conservatives a free pass, since they need to wake up to the fact that the public are increasingly seeing the two issues on a par with each other. This goes back to the issue of a lack of transparency by the Conservative Party machinery which has created a fog through which people have started to make the assumption that there is something to hide.
Poor communications by the Conservatives is nothing new though. If you look at the Blair years, which many of us regarded as the most socially liberal Government in the last two decades, nothing was achieved in terms of setting up systems to monitor anti-Muslim hatred or in challenging it. The Conservatives have achieved this, beginning with the previous Coalition Government in partnership with the Liberal Democrats, which supported work on monitoring anti-Muslim hate and in highlighting the massacres of Muslims in Srebrenica.
It has been this Conservative Government that pushed for all police forces to have an Islamophobic monitoring flag in hate crimes, and it was a Conservative Government that amended and altered the Prevent strategy, so that it was not just exclusively focussed on Muslim communities, which it had been when it was developed and implemented by Labour through the Preventing Violent Extremism programme.
It has also been this Government that has set up a scheme for faith institutions, such as mosques, to get access to capital funds for their security. Yet if you listen to young Muslims, you would think that the Conservatives are literally, working against them. This is truly bizarre – though you can’t blame the public because public messaging by the Conservatives has been so poor and so haphazard. Furthermore, the Conservatives find it very difficult to talk about or effectively handle issues of race, religion or culture, and this inaction is publicly seen as being some form of ‘guilt’ or that charges laid against the Party must be true.
The only way that the Conservatives are going to get out of this self-inflicted disaster is to –
- Acknowledge there is a problem with anti-Muslim prejudice among some of their members, and that local associations will be provided with training on how to handle issues of bigotry and prejudice, and by recognising what it looks and sounds like in relation to communities.
- Arrange for ‘dip tests’ to take place in local associations on the types of complaints they have received, and the way that they have handled complaints around diversity, bigotry and prejudice.
- Ensure that any ‘diversity champions’ in Associations have the relevant support to be able to be ‘critical friends’ when they need to be.
- Take a zero tolerance approach to racism and prejudice. This does not mean having a ‘revolving door’ policy of suspending and re-instating people without clear reasons that are listed on the Party web-site. The public need to be told why someone is being re-instated and in the end, a political party rises and fall on the issue of public confidence.
- Communicate its successes in working with black and minority ethnic communities and
- Develop a code of conduct that reflects comments made on digital platforms, and discuss the possible ramifications for people who transgress it. This needs to be circulated to all members so that they are aware of any changes.
These are some initial steps that the Party shou;d take and they must do so immediately. That however, will not be the end of the matter. It is a start of a process to ensure that the Conservatives reflect a modern Britain, one which is proud and confident of its pluralism and diversity. Failure to do so and the continued lack of transparency only means that the Islamophobia charges against the Party will become a shadow that come to haunt it for years.