The Tories' Islamophobia Problem Isn't Going Anywhere
At least six candidates remain suspended as an anti-hate organisation distances itself from a whitewash.
Darren Harrison (left), who was suspended from the Conservative Party after VICE revealed his attendance of events organised by racist group Generation Identity, with MP James Cleverly.
At least six Tories accused of Islamophobia are still in the Conservative Party, as their investigations continue, months after troubling allegations surfaced, VICE can reveal.
The revelation comes as pressure piles onto the Conservative Party to deal with its Islamophobia problem. Tell MAMA – the hate-crime reporting service the Tories have teamed up with – has distanced itself from a potential white-wash, telling VICE, "We're not going to be a sop to anyone."
Outlining his party's response to the Islamophobia scandal last month, Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis claimed he is taking a "zero-tolerance approach" to abuse. "In response to the cases brought to us, we have immediately suspended members and launched investigations. Many of these have led to expulsions," said Brandon Lewis.
But when VICE asked the Conservative Party for a list of expulsions since 2016, when the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) started calling for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the party, we didn't get a response. So then we asked a more specific question: for an update on the statuses of investigations into six Tory candidates who were suspended for alleged Islamophobia before May's local elections. Had any of them concluded and, if so, what action, if any, had been taken? We got a no comment in response, from which you can infer that the investigations are still ongoing.
The still-not expelled Tories are:
- Darren Harrison, who was suspended after VICE revealed his attendance of events organised by racist group Generation Identity.
- Mike Payne, suspended after he shared an article calling Muslims "parasites" on social media.
- David Boston, who was suspended after sharing a photo of a bacon rasher draped over a door handle, alongside the caption: "Protect your house from terrorism. Stay safe lads."
- Alexander van Terheyden, who was suspended after he described Islam as "a political ideology that was born out of violence" on social media.
- Karen Sunderland, who was suspended for tweeting that "Islam has become the new Nazism".
- Nick Sundin, who was suspended for calling Mohammed a "fucking paedophile" on Twitter.
All six were suspended in either April or early May for allegations of expressing anti-Muslim sentiments. Now, we're in the first week of Wimbledon, England is through to a World Cup quarter final, ants are flying in our faces and the Conservative Party still hasn’t worked out what to do with these candidates.
This comes after the party was ridiculed by its own former co-chairman for failing to deal with the problem. Sayeeda Warsi wrote in the Guardian yesterday that, "The current plan to tackle Islamophobia… is woefully inept."
Mind you, at least they have finally have a plan, having taken the first step – admitting they have a problem. Last month, Brandon Lewis quietly slipped out an article on Tory grassroots website Conservative Home outlining measures to deal with the issue, teaming up with hate-crime reporting service Tell MAMA. It wasn’t exactly an all-singing, all-dancing statement of intent. Maybe a briefing to lobby hacks and a big picture-byline opinion piece in a sympathetic newspaper about how Islamophobes in the Tory ranks are living off borrowed time would have been better? Nah, just a quick blog on a website that nobody except committed Tories would ever read. Nor was it the urgent inquiry that has been repeatedly asked for since 2016.
But it was a change from the Conservatives' previous approach, which was to ignore the problem and shoot the messenger, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid saying the MCB "does not represent Muslims", a day before 350 more mosques called for an inquiry. Mohammed Amin, the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, had warned that the party hoped the problem "will magically go away" because it does not want to "rock the boat" when it is weak politically.
While Lewis wrote, "I am determined that our Party will take the lead" in the "fight against an increasingly abusive public discourse", the actions he outlined all related to local Conservative associations dealing with bigoted individuals better. Basically, he wanted to clue grassroots supporters up and let them know where the line is, rather than looking at why bigots might be attracted to the party. A press release from Tell MAMA about their help for the Tories added a note of caution: "We welcome a move forward to challenge and eliminate anti-Muslim bigotry… This does not mean that further work is not needed up the administrative and decision making chain."
Warsi has questioned the appropriateness of using Tell MAMA, a hate-crime reporting organisation: "While I believe the issue within the party is serious, no one is suggesting that Conservative members are committing 'hate crimes'," she wrote, adding, "Systemic prejudice is far more subtle."
Iman A'tta, director of Tell MAMA, insisted her organisation also deals with institutional forms of hate, and told VICE: "Our engagement with the Conservatives has been a discussion at an individual level. There is yet a more structural and deeper-rooted plan to be developed, which needs to be done sooner rather than later, and we will be pushing for this as good practice that must systemically iron out issues around anti-Muslim bigotry."
A spokesperson put it in starker terms: "We're not going to be a sop to anyone... If the response doesn't come back from the Conservatives very soon to have a structural-plan meeting then we will make clear that we're not part of the process."
There's no let up on pressure on the Conservatives to, as Warsi puts it, "move on from the era of 'fuck the Muslims'". Lewis' current strategy of suspending individuals and launching investigations that last for months isn't convincing anyone.