Warsi: Tory party has an institutional racism issue

·5-min read

Former Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi has repeated her claim that the party is “institutionally racist” and warned it would take years to undo the damage done by allegations of Islamophobia.

An independent report concluded anti-Muslim sentiment remained a problem in the party but the allegation of institutional racism was not borne out by the evidence of the complaints system.

Lady Warsi said the report did not go far enough and called for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate.

Current Tory chairwoman Amanda Milling apologised on behalf of the party “to anyone who has been hurt by discriminatory behaviour of others or failed by our system” following the publication of Professor Swaran Singh’s report.

Lady Warsi said the apology “is the start of a process of healing, but it will take years to undo the damage done”.

She told Sky News that the Conservative Party’s “processes, attitudes and behaviour” were at fault, echoing the definition of institutional racism in Sir William Macpherson’s inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

“The report concludes that from the top – from the Prime Minister at one level – to local associations at the bottom, there is an attitude issue and a problem and a behaviour issue in terms of Islamophobia,” Lady Warsi said.

“So on each of those counts it satisfies the definition of institutional racism… the way I see it, if it looks like institutional racism, feels like institutional racism, fits the definition of institutional racism then I’m afraid it is institutional racism.”

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It was “so obvious that the party does have an institutional racism issue”, she said, but the report, “by concluding that it does not, it clearly shows that there are flaws in the way in which this inquiry was conducted… and it requires the Equality and Human Rights Commission to look at that”.

The remit of Prof Singh’s report meant he concluded the complaints process was not institutionally racist but he did not examine the views of the wider party membership.

Prof Singh’s report included criticism of Boris Johnson over remarks made in newspaper columns, such as the description of burka-wearing women as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

Lady Warsi said Mr Johnson “accepts that he is part of the problem and that he got it wrong in the past”.

She said Mr Johnson had issued a “mealy-mouthed apology” for the offence taken.

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“Boris is not known to apologise but as far as I’m concerned there is an acceptance that what he said was wrong, what he said was offensive, what he said was insensitive, and that he would not use those words again.

“I think as far as I’m concerned we can move on from that.”

Former chancellor Sajid Javid, who made a commitment to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia a key issue in the 2019 Tory leadership contest, said the party must accept the recommendations in the report.

“Although the investigation didn’t find any evidence of institutional or systemic anti-Muslim prejudice, it did find distressing examples of anti-Muslim sentiment at local association and individual levels, as well as serious shortcomings in the party’s complaints process,” he said.

“Stamping out discrimination, whether against Muslims or any other minority group, is an issue where our country’s political parties have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership.

“I strongly urge the Conservative Party to adopt the independent investigation’s recommendations – unconditionally and in full.”

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Iman Atta, director of campaign group Tell MAMA which monitors anti-Muslim attacks, said: “All political parties in this country should have zero tolerance to anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia.

“Tell MAMA is well placed, given the decade of work monitoring, tackling and supporting victims of anti-Muslim hatred, to assist all political parties going forward.

“There is no room for complacency whatsoever in tackling this form of poisonous hatred.”

Opposition parties seized on the report’s criticism of Mr Johnson.

Shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said: “This report is a damning indictment of the discrimination rife in the Conservative Party, and it goes all the way up to the Prime Minister.

“Reports of Islamophobic hate crime spiralled in the weeks after Boris Johnson likened women who wear the burka to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’.

“He must now issue a full and proper public apology that acknowledges the pain and hurt he has caused in the Muslim community, as well as taking meaningful action to rebuild trust, especially among Muslim women.”

SNP depute Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald said: “Boris Johnson has made a litany of overtly racist and discriminatory comments about various groups of people over the years, which have not only caused major offence but have damaged the Conservative Party and the UK’s reputation.”

The report was described as a “whitewash” by advocacy organisation Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), which also called for the EHRC to investigate.

Mend chief executive Azhar Qayum said: “The report fails to address the pervasive climate of Islamophobia across the party which produces complaints in the first place, instead dismissing such issues as merely giving the ‘impression’ of Islamophobia – a conclusion that is little more than gaslighting.

“Mend has thus had no choice but to insist that the EHRC launch its own investigation.”