Inquiry finds ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’ problem in UK Conservative Party

London, May 25 (PTI) Anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the UK's ruling Conservative Party, an independent inquiry concluded on Tuesday – around two years after it was set up by Prime Minister Boris Johnson into whether the party he leads has procedures in place to tackle discrimination, including allegations of Islamophobia.

The inquiry, led by Indian-origin academic and former human rights commissioner Professor Swaran Singh, concluded that the party leadership claims a “zero-tolerance approach” to all forms of discrimination but discriminatory and insensitive incidents do occur.

The Conservative Party said it has accepted all the recommendations of the inquiry and will take “immediate action” to improve handling of complaints.

In his foreword to the report, Prof Singh reflects on his personal experiences as a British Sikh and explains the reasoning behind the inquiry casting a wider net to include all forms of discrimination beyond 'one exclusively concerned with Islam'.

“I have lived in the United Kingdom now for over 30 years,” said Singh, who is Professor of Social and Community Psychiatry at the University of Warwick.

“I used to wear a turban, which made many assume that I was a Muslim. In those early years, I experienced first-hand the pernicious manifestations of racism within certain parts of British society. I was spat at, assaulted, abused and denounced, once by a medical colleague who said I ‘should go home’ if I didn’t like it here,” he recalled, adding that much has changed for the better since then.

“Britain is now my homeland and that of my children. But perhaps not enough has changed, and not everywhere…I hope that those who questioned the credibility of the investigation even before it started are reassured that I have not shied away from reporting anti-Muslim discrimination where I have found it,” he said.

He and his team analysed 1,418 complaints relating to 727 separate incidents as recorded in the Tories' complaints database between 2015 and 2020.

“Judging by the extent of complaints and findings of misconduct by the Party itself that relate to anti-Muslim words and conduct, anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the Party. This is damaging to the Party, and alienates a significant section of society,” the report notes.

“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 the Islamic faith.

'The data collection of such incidents is weak and difficult to analyse, hampering early identification of problems and effective remedial action,” it adds.

Among the incidents referenced is Johnson’s controversial article in ‘The Telegraph’ in 2018, before he was the Prime Minister, when he likened Muslim women wearing burqas to 'letter boxes'.

“The investigation noted that several interviewees considered Mr Johnson’s language as discriminatory and unacceptable. Mr Johnson declined to add anything to his previously expressed regret that offence had been taken at his comments,” the report notes.

“The leadership of the Conservative Party ought to set a good example for appropriate behaviours and language as a guide for the rest of the Party to follow,” it adds.

The inquiry report lays out a series of recommendations for the Tory party to tackle the issue, including publishing an action plan within the next six weeks and produce and implement a new code of conduct for party members over the course of the next six months.

“Identifying, challenging and rooting out discrimination should be an active part of ‘everyone’s business’ and the Party leadership should lead by example. This is not just a political imperative, but also a moral and ethical one,” the report advises.

“In commissioning this Report, the Conservative Party has taken the first step. It must now take the Report’s recommendations seriously and implement these speedily. The foundations of our democracy depend upon our political parties being representative and inclusive. It is now for the Conservative Party to take the lead against discrimination of all kinds,” it adds.

In its official response, the Conservative Party said any incident of discrimination is wrong and the party must work harder to stamp out discrimination of all kinds.

“I welcome the independent investigation’s findings that there is no evidence of anti-Muslim complaints being dealt with differently or that there is any evidence of political interference decisions of complaints,” said Amanda Milling MP, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.

She added: “On behalf of the Conservative Party I would like to apologise to anyone who has been hurt by discriminatory behaviour of others or failed by our system. We held this investigation to address these allegations to make sure that any instances of discrimination are isolated and to look at how we can improve and strengthen our complaints process.

“It is clear that there have been failings in our complaints process and we will begin work on implementing the recommendations set out by the investigation. We will be publishing our plan to implement these recommendations in six weeks’ time.” PTI AK NSA AKJ NSA