Newham Conservatives are clearly concerned about the coverage of their election campaign – though probably less by that on ConservativeHome or Breibart or Cranmer or the Daily Express than in their local media. Understandably, they want to correct any impression that their efforts are aimed solely at Muslim voters and their literature translated only into the languages that the latter speak.
They have therefore issued an open letter to the borough’s residents pointing out that they have candidates of three different religious faiths, and of none, in tomorrow’s elections; that they have spoken in churches, temples and a Sikh festival as well as mosques; that they have distributed leaflets in Portuguese as well as Urdu (for example); that they have canvassed in 12 different languages as well as English, and that “we believe passionately in the importance of Newham’s residents integrating properly into British society and that means, above all, ensuring that they have a good standard of English. That is why we wish to offer free English language lessons to every Newham resident who wants them, but also wish to incentivise them to use the English language in the borough.” These are all important points and well worth reproducing on this site.
As important as what the statement says is what it does not say. It doesn’t mention Mufti Shah Sadruddin, who has said that “politics is the tool which can unite the Muslims and the Ummah, that Muslims should “block the roads of Newham just like Tahrir Square” and that “the Islamic state is the greatest contribution to humanity” – and is standing for the council on the Tory ticket. Nor does it refer to the leaflet targeted at “the Muslim community”, which contained pledges to oppose “any further betting shops in Newham” and “respect…religious beliefs and needs when making planning decisions”. This could reasonably be read as a crackdown on off-licence or pub or club applications right across the borough. It is hard to reconcile the leaflet with the statement’s commitment to “not unduly favour one group over the other”.
As we have argued, the Conservative campaign in Newham raises some important issues – whether Sadruddin is an appropriate candidate; what the form should be for running candidates who have previously been candidates for Respect, and whether it is right to target election literature at religious groups. The Newham statement resolves none of these issues. Over to Downing Street and CCHQ.