Britain’s ruling Conservative Party came under fire this week, accused of being institutionally Islamophobic following a string of incidents that led to the suspension of members and the resignations of councillors accused of being Islamophobic.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a senior Tory peer in the House of Lords, publicly accused her party of turning a blind eye to anti-Muslim prejudice within its ranks and called on party officials to show leadership after Prime Minister Theresa May and Chairman Brandon Lewis failed to do so.
“I first raised these matters three years ago,” Warsi told BBC Newsnight on Tuesday. “I raised these privately, I’ve raised it with three successive chairmen, I raised it in a letter to the prime minister in 2017.
“And the way in which this matter has just been pushed around from pillar to post, not really taken seriously, not getting into dealing with issues until they become very public on social media, has meant that the party has failed to deal with it.”
Telling of her experience bringing up the issue with May, Warsi said that the prime minister is not fond of discussing such matters openly with party colleagues. Warsi added that it was difficult to engage May on the matter, describing her response to Morsi’s letter as rather “odd and formal,” as if it had been written by a civil servant.
“She simply passed me back to the party chairman at the time … we had two meetings and each time he listened and then absolutely nothing was done, and I think this is why I say this is an institutional issue,” Warsi added.
The former Conservative Party co-chair also called out the Tories for reinstating a member previously suspended for making Islamophobic comments and allowing him to run in a local election.
Warsi has also gotten death threats for publicly raising these issues, she said, including last April around the so-called “punish a Muslim” day when violent literature was sent out to Muslim MPs threatening violence against them.
Soon after the BBC interview, 14 members of the Conservative Party were suspended for posting Islamophobic comments on a Tory Facebook group, including ones saying “turf all Muslims out of public office” and “get rid of all mosques”, as well as ones attacking Home Secretary Sajid Javid and warning against “voting for Islam.”
On Wednesday, two Tory councillors resigned from the party after being found to have endorsed Islamophobic posts on their Facebook accounts. Len Milner and Chris Smith had “liked” a cartoon that depicted London Mayor Sadiq Khan being beheaded by the queen. Another councillor was suspended for retweeting a Twitter post praising Tommy Robinson, a well-known anti-Muslim activist.
The recent suspensions and resignations are hardly the only examples of Islamophobia within the party. Last November, in a piece in the Daily Telegraph, former Foreign Secretary — and likely aspirant for the prime minister’s post — Boris Johnson compared women who wear Muslim garb to “letter boxes and bank robbers,” but a later internal inquiry by the party found he had not committed any wrongdoing.
Last month, in a debate on the BBC on Islamophobia and the government’s response, Tory MP Henry Smith claimed: “I’ve never come across any of that in the Conservative party.” Smith’s denial of Islamophobia within the party showed that he was “refusing to confront the issue,” according to Warsi.
In the last three years, there has been a sharp rise in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime in the U.K., with 2017 seeing a record number of attacks against Muslims. In 2018 there were over 1,200 reports of Islamophobic attacks, jumping 26 percent from the previous year.
Islamophobic incidents have risen significantly due to a number of factors such as Brexit and the proliferation of far-right groups sowing public misconceptions about immigration and faith, say experts.