Change UK says criticism by Muslim community groups is 'smear campaign'

Jon Stone
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Change UK says criticism by Muslim community groups is 'smear campaign'

Change UK says criticism by Muslim community groups is 'smear campaign'

New centrist party Change UK has responded to criticism by Muslim community groups of one of its candidates by branding it a “smear campaign” and suggesting its critics are “cultists”.

Nora Mulready was criticised by the Muslim Council of Britain and racism reporting service Tell MAMA after comments emerged in which she appeared to conflate Islam with terrorism, questioned Pakistani immigration, and suggested the concerns of far-right leader Tommy Robinson should be acknowledged.

The party has already had two candidates step down since its European elections launch on Tuesday over racially-charged offensive tweets, but appears to have dug-in on Ms Mulready’s comments.

A spokesperson from the party’s press office confirmed Ms Mulready was still a candidate as of Thursday morning, and characterised the criticism as a “smear campaign against her”.

The candidate’s local London branch of the party tweeted: “Nora Mulready is an incredible candidate for @theindgroup – someone with the guts to say things as they are”. It called on critics to “drop the smear campaign”.

Writing in a response article for The Independent, Ms Mulready herself said she was “horrified, appalled and deeply upset to have been targeted by what appears to be an active campaign of smears and lies from hard-left activists and the MCB [Muslim Council of Britain]”.

Mike Gapes, the party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said: “Seems that far left trot trolls and cultists are worried about @TheIndGroup hence all the vile abuse and lies being directed at some of our candidates today.

“It’s all a tactic designed to divert attention from the abject failures of the pro Brexit Corbyn Labour. It won’t work.”

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain had said Ms Mulready had failed to meet the anti-racist standards the party claimed to hold itself to and was “all too ready in othering people, in this case, conflating Islam with terrorism”.

Iman Atta OBE, director of Tell Mama, had also told The Independent that “for a candidate in the MEP elections to cite Tommy Robinson as a benchmark for concern around radical Islamism is a joke” and that there was “a clear difference between Islamism and Islam”, adding: “If the Change candidate cannot see that and infer that Muslims are somehow faulty because they follow Islam, then one has to question who selected her?”

In the aftermath of the London Bridge terror attack in June 2017 Ms Mulready had urged politicians to point the finger at Islam, tweeting: “Will Cobra meeting [in response to the attack] have integrity to call threat by its name? We cannot deal with it if we can’t even name it. Islamism, a strand of Islam.”

She also argued that it was a “fallacy that Islamism is nothing to do with Islam” and that radical Islamism could be “Koranically justified”.

In May 2018 she said: “Half a million people signed ‘free #TommyRobinson’ petition in 48 hrs. He’s hit societal nerve and that needs to be acknowledged if we want his movement to stop growing. I think not calling liberals, Muslims and exMuslims who raise concerns about conservative Islam ‘racists’ may help.”

On another occasion in 2018 Ms Mulready drew links between religious unrest in Pakistan and immigration to Britain, warning that riots in favour of blasphemy laws in the country showed that some “immigration brings with it some very regressive cultural values”.

Writing in defence of her comments in The Independent today, Ms Mulready wrote: “Ever since the announcement yesterday of my candidacy as a London MEP for Change UK – The Independent Group, I have been subjected to an online campaign of false allegations of racism, including an accusation by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) that I am Islamophobic.

“I have never – not once – expressed anti-Muslim hatred or bigotry. I have always been clear that any criticisms I may make are about Islamism, and conservative Islamic cultures or beliefs; never Muslims. I am horrified, appalled and deeply upset to have been targeted by what appears to be an active campaign of smears and lies from hard-left activists and the MCB.”