A week after VICE exposed a Tory council candidate Darren Harrison who showed support for far-right racist group Generation Identity, he remains suspended, pending the results of an investigation by the party.
Other councillors and council candidates spending time in the purgatorial “suspended, pending investigation” category include Mike Payne, councillor for Sowerby Bridge was suspended on the 4th of April pending investigation after sharing an article which referred to Muslims as "parasites". There's also Hackney council candidate Alexander van Terheyden, who was suspended on 17th April pending "urgent investigation" for his opinions including that the Crusades were “simply a response to Islam spreading through Europe by the sword”. Terheyden claims he is not anti-Muslim, only anti-Islam.
The Tory Islamophobia problem is almost certainly more widespread than a few council candidates. On ITV’s Peston on Sunday last week, senior Muslim Tory Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said, “I know within my own party there are almost now weekly occurrences of Islamophobic incidents and rhetoric.” The comment went largely unremarked, as Peston asked further questions about the Windrush scandal. I guess if a government policy affecting many communities is described as “almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany” it makes sense to focus on that, rather than racist incidents within a political party.
But it’s not as if any of this should come as a surprise. Much as the Conservatives in government have been accused of repeatedly ignoring the human toll the “Hostile Environment” was taking on the Windrish generation, the party has simply ignored questions of Islamophobia in its ranks.
In 2016, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) called for an urgent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party in 2016, following Zack Goldsmiths’ Mayoral campaign, which described Mr Khan as “radical”, that London would not be safe under his watch, and suggested he had associated with extremists. The campaign was seen as dogwhistle racism; Goldsmith later expressed regret over it, and insisted he didn't have a racist bone in his body.
"Just as the Labour Party is rightly conducting an inquiry into antisemitism, it is important for the Conservative Party to reflect upon the extent of Islamophobia in its own ranks. We should have zero tolerance for both antisemitism and Islamophobia," said Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the MCB.
Miqaad Versi, Assistant Secretary General of MCB, was making similar arguments again in 2017, after Goldsmith was selected to run as an MP. He described the number of Islamophobic incidents as “truly staggering”.
No such inquiry ever took place.
"There was no response to the MCB's call for an inquiry into Islamophobia and there have been no meetings between the party and the MCB on this issue,” an MCB spokesperson told VICE.
If that seems a bit suss, how do the Conservatives fare when journalists do the job for the party and give them direct evidence of Islamophobic opinion? VICE asked the Conservative Party for an update on the investigation into Darren Harrison. We also asked for updates on the rest of the suspended-pending-investigation brigade.
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “We do not comment on ongoing investigations.”
I guess we’ll have to stay here on the edge of our seats waiting for the Tory diggers to do their investigations into people whose nasty opinions have already been exposed.
We also asked if party deputy chairman James Cleverly would like to distance himself from Harrison and Mike Payne, both of whom he is pictured campaigning with, and whether he would be doing anything to combat concerning number of Islamophobic incidents in his party. It's not suggested that Cleverly himself shares any opinions with Harrison or Payne, but it'd be good to hear from him. We haven't, so far.
MCB, meanwhile, have again asked for the issue to be looked at: “We would reiterate our call for an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative party, especially given the statement that there are ‘weekly occurrences of Islamophobic incidents’ in the party," a spokesperson told VICE.
Meanwhile, Cleverly has spent the week lording it over Labour for the bad handling of their anti-Semitism scandal. Fair enough, but at this point it's starting to look like projection.
It’s right to give Labour a hard time when they fail to deal with anti-Semitism – evidenced again by Ken Livingston’s claim on Friday that the whole thing is a “diversion” – but it would be great if this moment of driving prejudice out of public life could extend further. The Conservative Party has an Islamophobia problem, it’s just that nobody’s really talking about it. Least of all the Tories themselves.