Tories see Muslims as ‘fair game’, says ex-party chair

Baroness Warsi said Oliver Dowden's 'mealy mouthed' responses to Lee Anderson's comments show 'anti-Muslim racism is tolerated' in the party.

Watch: Anderson would have kept Tory whip with apology for ‘Islamist’ claim - Oliver Dowden

Former Conservative chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has said the party sees Muslims as “fair game” and “convenient electoral campaign fodder” amid its response to the Lee Anderson row.

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden has said Anderson would have kept the Tory whip if he had apologised for suggesting Sadiq Khan is controlled by “Islamists”.

Dowden, speaking on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, also said he does not believe Anderson – who until recently was deputy chair of the party – was “intending” to be Islamophobic when he made the widely criticised remarks that led to his suspension from the party on Saturday.

While accepting “words matter”, Dowden refused to say whether he thinks Anderson’s words were racist, conceding only that he understands why they “caused offence”.

And Warsi said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Dowden’s “disturbing mealy mouthed evasive responses” are “a clear display that anti-Muslim racism is tolerated within [the party and] that Muslims are not just fair game but convenient electoral campaign fodder".

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - APRIL 25: Conservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in the Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament on a visit to seek the adoption of a definition of Islamophobia, on April 25, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Baroness Warsi is an officer of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims.(Photo by Ken Jack/Getty Images)
Conservative peer Baroness Warsi has previously criticised her party's handling of Islamophobia allegations. (Getty Images)

The Tory peer, who has criticised her party’s handling of Islamophobia allegations in the past, added: “When we can’t even call out the obvious, when it’s so blatant and can’t find the words to condemn, we have lost all authority on being anti-racist.”

In an appearance on GB News on Friday, Anderson had said: “I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London... He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

Lee Anderson was suspended on Saturday. (PA)
Lee Anderson was suspended on Saturday. (PA)

Business minister Nus Ghani and former chancellor Sir Sajid Javid have been among other Tory figures joining a growing chorus of criticism from across the political divide over the remarks.

Dowden said Rishi Sunak had taken action against Anderson because the comments were “wrong” and an apology from him was not forthcoming.

But the prime minister has not yet commented publicly on the remarks, with London mayor Khan saying his “silence” amounts to “tacit endorsement” of Islamophobia.

Britain's largest Muslim body calls for probe

The Conservatives must launch an investigation into alleged “structural Islamophobia” within its ranks, Britain’s largest Muslim body has said.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) claimed anti-Muslim sentiment in the party was “on public display this week” following the Anderson incident, as well as an article in the Telegraph by Suella Braverman in which the former home secretary said “the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now”.

In a letter to Tory chair Richard Holden, MCB secretary general Zara Mohammed called for an investigation to be launched, adding: “Our view is that the Islamophobia in the party is institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership."

Mohammed also said it was significant that Anderson’s suspension came only after he refused to apologise - not following the initial remarks.

A Conservative spokesman on Sunday denied there is institutional racism in the party.

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