Lady Warsi says Tories still failing to tackle 'racism at every level'

Simon Murphy
Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

The Conservative peer Lady Warsi has issued a scathing attack on the Conservative party over its failure to tackle Islamophobia among its ranks.

Warsi, who has been a vocal critic of the Tories’ handling of anti-Muslim sentiment within the party, accused the party of having an institutional problem with dealing with the issue.

Her comments come after the Guardian obtained a dossier revealing that 25 sitting and former Conservative councillors have been exposed for posting Islamophobic and racist material on social media.

As many as 15 current and 10 former Tory councillors have posted, shared or endorsed Islamophobic or other racist content on Facebook or Twitter, according to a dossier that piles pressure on Boris Johnson after he backtracked on a pledge to hold an independent inquiry into the issue.

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

Asked about Johnson’s move to hold a general inquiry into racism, rather than specifically about Islamophobia, in the party, Warsi said: “I am disappointed that the party, having now realised that there is a problem in relation to a specific form of racism is still trying to absolve its responsibility by dilute what it is that its going to look at.”

She added: “Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party, three chairman later, two prime ministers later, 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.

“Let’s not forget that that the first issue raised by my colleagues and indeed the previous prime minister was that there really was no evidence of Islamophobia. Well, here we are four years later with dossier after dossier, dozens of dozens of cases being presented with the most vile evidence of racism within the party at every level from members of parliament all the way down to ordinary activists.”

Warsi also attacked the party over its lack of transparency over the process of handling Islamophobia allegations.

Inflammatory posts recorded in the dossier include calls for mosques to be banned, claims the faith wants to “turn the world Muslim”, referring to its followers as “barbarians” and “the enemy within”. After being presented with the posts by the Guardian, the Conservative party suspended all those who are still members pending an investigation.

The dossier, the contents of which were verified by the Guardian, was compiled by @matesjacob, an anonymous Twitter user who campaigns against racism.

Challenged on his pledge for the party to hold an independent inquiry into Islamophobia, Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, also told Today: “I said in terms when I appeared on your programme last week that we would have an inquiry into Islamophobia and prejudice. I said that we needed to tackle prejudice and racism in all its forms.”

Gove had previously told the programme the party would “absolutely” hold an “independent inquiry into Islamophobia … before the end of the year”. However, this week Johnson made a U-turn on a pledge for the Tories to hold an independent inquiry into Islamophobia, instead saying the party would have a “general investigation into prejudice of all kinds”.