‘No firm lead’ on tackling racism in the UK, says Labour peer

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There has been “no firm lead” on tackling racism within the UK, the author of a seminal report on multiculturalism has claimed.

Bhikhu Parekh, a Labour peer who helped shape the debate on multiculturalism in the early 2000s, said the “vulgar racism” such as that experienced by cricketer Azeem Rafiq had been the result of successive governments’ rejection of multiculturalism.

Lord Parekh, while chairman of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, released the Parekh report in 2000 which acted as a basis for much of the discussion of multiculturalism in the UK.

It comes as Labour called on the Conservative Party to “get serious” on tackling Islamophobia as statistics showed that nearly half of all religious hate crimes last year targeted Muslims.

Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds has written to her Tory counterpart Oliver Dowden telling him to not only tackle Islamophobia in society but in his own party ranks.

In the letter, Ms Dodds and Manchester Gorton MP Afzal Khan, chair of Labour’s Muslim Network, said Muslims “remained consistently, and especially, vulnerable to religiously motivated hate crimes – a trend that shows no signs of abating under the Conservative government”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Lord Parekh said: “What we are witnessing is the crudest form of racism that you could ever imagine.

“England has changed quite a bit as a result of Asian presence and black presence. Look at music, drama, theatre, corner shops opening late, family values, all of these things have changed British culture.

“And likewise, Asians have changed as a result of British culture. Those who do not want to accept it resort to this kind of vulgar racism.”

Anneliese Dodds visits Birmingham
Anneliese Dodds said Muslims remain vulnerable to religiously motivated hate crimes (Jacob King/PA)

While saying that much had improved, Lord Parekh added: “No firm lead has been given on race. You need a clear policy on promoting equality, fighting discrimination and disadvantages. I don’t see any such policy.”

Meanwhile, Ms Dodds and Mr Khan, in their letter, questioned whether the Singh Investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party released earlier this year “presented a full picture” and said Labour would be keeping a close watch on the approaching deadlines the party had set itself for responding to the probe.

They said the Conservative Party refused to use the term Islamophobia, instead referring to “anti-Muslim hatred”, which they said – coupled with a refusal to adopt the definition of Islamophobia agreed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims – was “undermining (the party’s) credibility over tackling this problem”.

A review led by Professor Swaran Singh found earlier this year that “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem” within the Conservative Party.

But the investigation did not find evidence of a party which “systematically discriminated against any particular group”.

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “Following the conclusion of the Singh investigation, the party is working on delivering the action plan set out by Professor Swaran Singh.

Hate crime stock
A report found ‘anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem’ within the Conservative Party (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“As outlined in the action plan, the party will publish a six-month progress report.”

Labour said Home Office statistics showed the number of recorded hate crimes against Muslims had decreased by 12.5% between 2019/20 and 2020/21, from 3,089 incidents to 2,703.

In 2019/20, offences against Muslims made up 50% of all recorded religious hate crimes, compared to 45% in 2020/21.

Speaking ahead of a visit to Cambridge Central Mosque to mark Islamophobia Awareness Month, Ms Dodds – who is also shadow women and equalities secretary – said: “It’s about time the Conservatives got serious about tackling Islamophobia in our society and in their own ranks.

“They can’t do that if they won’t even name it.”

She added: “The Tories have dragged their feet on this issue for far too long. The theme for this Islamophobia Awareness Month is ‘time for change’ – that change must start at the top of this Conservative Government.”

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