Nus Ghani is a Vice-Chair of the 1922 Commitee’s Executive. The other Vice-Chair is William Wragg, who will meet the police this week in the wake of his claims about some whips and other Ministers. He alleges that they have sought to blackmail and intimidate Conservative MPs.
Wragg has also submitted a letter to Graham Brady calling for a confidence ballot in Boris Johnson. No wonder that some of the Prime Minister’s supporters have joined the dots, and suggested that the timing of Ghani’s own claim has been chosen to cause Johnson maximum damage.
She says that she was told by a whip that her sacking as a Minister was related to her religion. Her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a meeting in Downing Street, she alleges, and her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”.
She also says that there were concerns “that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations” and “had to listen to a monologue on how hard it was to define when people are being racist and that the party doesn’t have a problem and I needed to do more to defend it”.
Ghani claims that at a second meeting with a whip “I was told that I was in fact fired for apparently saying to the PM that we had a ‘women problem’ [attracting female voters]. In the following weeks I was informed that if I persisted in raising this I would be ostracised by colleagues and my career and reputation would be destroyed”.
In the wake of the publication of Ghani’s claims by the Sunday Times, Mark Spencer issued a tweet as follows: “I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening. These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.”
Today, Johnson has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations. Which will close the story down until a report is concluded. Claims of anti-Muslim prejudice in Downing Street, and of an MP being threatened, are very serious. What should we make of it all?
Let’s start with timing. The conversations between Ghani and the Chief Whip took place the best part of two years ago. Some of her colleagues and others will have known about her version of them. The papers were looking for stories this weekend to damage the Government.
One should therefore be very cautious about suggestions from that Ghani herself gave the story to the Sunday Times. It isn’t at all obvious that she has reason to make it and herself a centre of attention, and she has clearly believed that the injustice done to her, by her own account, should be resolved without nationwide publicity.
It was to that end that she met the Prime Minister, at her insistence, in the wake of her conversations with Spencer. This raises a curiousity. Johnson apparently wrote to Ghani in the wake of his meeting with her to advise that she should raise the matter with the Conservative Party under its complaints procedure.
Ghani’s response to this yesterday was that this suggestion “was very clearly not appropriate for something that happened on Government business”. But she did discuss the matter nonetheless with Swaran Singh’s inquiry into alleged discrimination within the Conservatives before it reported last May.
Spencer tweeted on Saturday that “I provided evidence to the Singh Investigation into Islamophobia which concluded that there was no credible basis for the claims”. It seems unlikely that this interpretation of Singh’s conclusions is correct.
For Singh had no mandate to investigate discrimantion that took place within government rather than among the Conservatives. This would explain why his report says nothing about Ghani’s allegations. However, it may be worth pondering some sections of it which Sunder Katwala has drawn attention to.
These are as follows: “It was ultimately disappointing that some individuals made their consent to be included in the Report conditional, demanding that the Report include contested details or evidence outside the remit of the investigation”.
And: “Some individuals, having voluntarily given evidence to the investigation, later declined to be named and, in a few instances, made their consent conditional upon their evidence being presented in a particular manner”. It isn’t evident who this section refers to.
Friends of Ghani say that she had no alternative, Downing Street having denied her the inquiry which it has now conceded, but to knock on Singh’s door. Be that as it may, this story obviously boasts different actors with different motives.
Ghani believes that she has unjustly been deprived of her job and wants it back (or at least another one in government). The enemies of Johnson who have submitted letters of no confidence want him out. The Chief Whip’s opponents want him gone, too.
Ghani’s friends are agitating on her behalf. Those vexed by anti-Muslim prejudice within the Conservatives have a natural interest in the case. These include Sajid Javid, who has written that one Association rejected him as a candidate because of his religion.
Javid tweeted that “Ghani is a friend and a credit to the Conservative Party. This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard”. This was after Spencer had denied Ghani’s claims.
It is worth drilling down through the emphemeral politics to two persistent themes. The first is the independence of inquiries. An investigation commissioned by the Prime Minister reports to the Prime Minister. The circular nature of the process has led some of Johnson’s critics to complain that Sue Gray’s own lacks independence.
The second is the “lived experience”, as the phrase has it, of Conservative ethnic minority MPs. The party leadership has an eye on their selection, since it wants a parliamentary party that “looks like Britain”. It also keeps a special one on MPs from minority religions, for the same reason.
Some of the MPs concerned embrace this interest: they, too, want more diversity, at least in some forms. Others shun it: they see themselves as Conservatives and as British – end of matter. They find the suggestion that they somehow been selected on any ground other than merit repugnant.
It is not at all impossible or even unlikely for an MP from an ethnic and religious minority feels the tug of both impulses, and feelings about the institutional Party that range from affection to resentment. For clarity: I have no window into Ghani’s lived experience, and am not writing these words with her in mind.
But her case stirs thought about wider issues. And whatever was discussed between her and Spencer, it is not at all surprising that the Conservative leadership wants Muslim MPs to defend it against claims of anti-Muslim prejudice within the Party.
Singh concluded that “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the Party”, but also that the inquiry “found no evidence of a Party which systematically discriminated against any particular group”. That sounds right. But should a Muslim Tory MP really be under some special obligation to defend it?
What if he or she feels that the truth is more ambiguous – or at least qualified? Why shouldn’t one who is a Transport Minister, as Ghani was, get on with the job for which taxpayers pay him, and be left alone by Downing Street or CCHQ to do it? Such are some of the questions raised by the practice of identity politics and the way we live now.