Baroness Warsi: Tory party ‘has serious problem’ with Islamophobia

By Elizabeth Arnold and Harriet Line, PA Political Staff

The Conservative Party has a “serious and deep problem with Islamophobia”, former co-chairwoman Baroness Warsi has warned.

The Tory peer claimed the party is failing to deal with the problem “institutionally” and accused it of being “dismissive” of the issue four years after problems were first brought to light.

Her comments came as the Conservatives suspended a number of members pending an investigation after a dossier suggested they had posted or endorsed Islamophobic and racist material online.

Twenty-five sitting and former Tory councillors were said to be among those named in the documents, which were obtained by The Guardian.

Baroness Warsi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m starting to question just how much needs to come to light before the party finally acknowledge that we have a serious and deep problem with Islamophobia and that institutionally we’re failing to deal with it.”

She said the party has an “institutional problem”, adding there had been “dossier after dossier, dozens and dozens of cases presented with the most vile evidence of racism within the party at every level from MPs all the way down to our ordinary activists”.

“I welcome any form of an inquiry – I think I’ve got to the point where beggars can’t be choosers any more – but I am disappointed that the party, having now realised that it is a real problem in relation to a specific form of racism, is still trying to absolve its responsibility by trying to dilute what it is that it’s going to look at.

“The fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove insisted “we have tackled Islamophobia firmly and clearly” and the Labour Party had not tackled anti-Semitism.

Michael Gove (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He told Today: “In terms I said we will have our own investigation, of course, into Islamophobia and prejudice.

“We have taken swift action to deal with any Conservative Party member who has been accused of engaging in Islamophobic language or actions, we’ve made sure those people are suspended and there is an investigation into that, and there is a stark contrast with what’s been happening in the Labour Party.”

Tory chiefs said all those found to be party members had been “suspended immediately, pending an investigation”.

“The swift action we take on not just anti-Muslim discrimination, but discrimination of any kind, is testament to the seriousness with which we take such issues,” a spokeswoman said.

“The Conservative Party will never stand by when it comes to prejudice and discrimination of any kind.

“That’s why we are already establishing the terms of an investigation to make sure that such instances are isolated and robust processes are in place to stamp them out as and when they occur.”

It is understood not all the names in the dossier are Tory members, but the party was unable to say how many had been suspended.

The disclosure increases pressure on the Prime Minister to hold an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party, rather than a broader investigation into prejudice within its ranks.

Shadow equalities minister Naz Shah said: “The Conservative Party is rife with Islamophobia, racism and bigotry from top to bottom, but we have no faith that Boris Johnson will do anything about it.

“Johnson’s comments about Muslim women looking like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letter boxes’ were linked to a 375% rise in anti-Muslim hate crime, and polls show a majority of Conservative Party members hold Islamophobic views.

“Boris Johnson must commit to a full independent inquiry into Islamophobia and stop pretending it doesn’t exist in his party.”