Anti-Muslim sentiment 'remains a problem' within Conservative Party, report finds

25 May 2021, 12:02 | Updated: 25 May 2021, 16:16

Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith were both singled out in the report
Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith were both singled out in the report. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Anti-Muslim sentiment "remains a problem" within the Conservative Party, an independent report has found.

The inquiry into alleged Islamophobia, led by Professor Swaran Singh, looked at 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination that were recorded by the party between 2015 and 2020.

It found anti-Muslim sentiment was seen at local association and individual levels but said claims of "institutional racism" were not borne out by evidence.

READ MORE: Tories launch independent review into Islamophobia in party

READ MORE: LBC obtains dossier showing 10 Tory councillors sharing Islamophobic comments

The review also said Boris Johnson's comments about women wearing the burka have given the impression of a party "insensitive to Muslim communities".

Former cabinet minister Sajid Javid said the report found "distressing examples of anti-Muslim sentiment" at local and individual levels, "as well as serious shortcomings in the Party's complaints process".

Former Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi tweeted: "The detail of this report is crucial and tells a story that headlines do not.

"Each section reveals a deep & embedded issue of a Party at best unable and at worst unwilling to deal with the issue of racism."

In a pointed message to Mr Johnson, the report said the leadership of the Conservative Party "ought to set a good example for appropriate behaviours and language".

The Prime Minister was cleared by a majority on an independent panel over a complaint he broke the party's code of conduct following a Daily Telegraph column in 2018 which described Muslim women who wear the burqa as looking like "letterboxes" and "bank robbers".

Mr Johnson said he was "sorry for any offence taken" over his journalism and told Prof Singh's investigation: "Would I use some of the offending language from my past writings today? Now that I am Prime Minister, I would not."

The inquiry said it spoke to several interviewees who considered Mr Johnson's language "discriminatory and unacceptable".

In response to Mr Johnson's assertion he would not make such remarks now, it said: "While this could be considered leading by example, the investigation would like to emphasise that using measured and appropriate language should not be a requirement solely for senior people, but ought to be expected throughout the Conservative Party."

The investigation also examined the controversial and unsuccessful mayoral campaign Zac Goldsmith - now Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park - ran in London against Sadiq Khan in 2016, during which he accused his Muslim Labour rival of associating with extremists.

The report said Lord Goldsmith "accepts poor judgement in the way his campaign was conducted but forcefully denies harbouring anti-Muslim sentiments or using such sentiments for political advantage".

High-profile cases like Mr Johnson's and Lord Goldsmith's "give the impression to many that the Party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities", it added.

Prof Singh, a former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "I'm not saying that the party leadership is insensitive to Muslim communities. I'm saying that the perception is very strong."

The inquiry follows a series of allegations about Islamophobic behaviour in the party and was widened to consider all forms of discrimination.

It said more than two-thirds of the incidents it analysed - 496 cases - related to Islam.

Some 74% involved the use of social media.

Around a third of cases - 231 - resulted in a sanction, with 50% of those resulting in a suspension and 29% expulsion from the party.

No action was taken in 418 incidents for reasons including the complaint being in relation to someone who was not a party member, insufficient evidence or a prior investigation.

There was no evidence that complaints related to Islam are treated differently from those related to other forms of discrimination, nor was there evidence of attempts to pressure or interfere with the handling of individual complaints.

But Prof Singh said the complaints process was "clunky, cumbersome and slow, and not transparent".

Baroness Warsi has accused the party of "institutional racism" and submitted a dossier of 30 cases to the inquiry.

The report said it carried out "in-depth scrutiny" of the cases but "we concluded that her allegation of 'institutional racism' against the party was not borne out by evidence available to the investigation as regards the way the party handled the complaints process".

But it added: "While the party leadership claims a 'zero tolerance approach' to all forms of discrimination, our findings show that discriminatory behaviours occur, especially in relation to people of Islamic faith."

The investigation did not however find evidence of a party which "systematically discriminated against any particular group".

It called on the Tories to introduce sweeping changes to the complaints process, publishing an action plan within six weeks to set out how it will respond, followed by a six-month progress report and a one-year review carried out by an appropriate body.

Within six weeks, the party should review its social media rules and within six months develop training on "acceptable" behaviour online.

Within a year, the report said the party should produce and implement a single, mandatory code of conduct across its membership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Tory chairwoman Amanda Milling said the party would respond later on Tuesday.