4 min read
New Conservative chairman Oliver Dowden is under pressure to step up action on tackling Islamophobia in the party by a prominent Muslim MP who has accused them of “dragging their feet” on the issue.
In a letter from Labour MP Afzal Khan, vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on British Muslims, Dowden has been asked to deliver on promises made following the Singh report which earlier this year concluded anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem for the Tory party.
The Singh report released in May this year asked the party to set out a new code of conduct for members by this November.
The letter, also addressed to party co-chair Ben Elliott, also insists the Conservatives must officially adopt a definition of Islamophobia widely used by other political parties.
Khan said tackling Islamophobia should have been far more prominent at the Conservative autumn conference held in Manchester this week.
Khan, the MP for Manchester Gorton, said: “It is a disgrace that the Conservative Party have dragged their feet on this issue for so long.
“Islamophobia has real-life implications for the Muslim community here in the UK and government figures reveal that year after year hate crimes are the highest against Muslims.
“As political representatives, it is our responsibility to safeguard all of our communities, no matter their race or religion.”
In his letter, Khan asks for evidence of the steps the Conservatives have taken to reassure British Muslims of their commitment to tackling hatred and racism, and facilitate meetings with key Muslim organisations. He also asked when the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group last met.
In response to Khan, a Conservative party spokesperson said: “Following the conclusion of the Singh investigation the Party is working on delivering the action plan set out by Professor Swaran Singh.
“As outlined in the action plan the party will publish a six month progress report.”
The independent report was commissioned by Boris Johnson after he and other hopefuls in the 2019 Conservative party leadership race pledged to hold an inquiry.
Professor Singh, a former equality and human rights commissioner, found that two-thirds of all incidents reported to the complaints team at Conservative Party headquarters between 2015 and 2020 related to allegations of Islamophobic discrimination.
Remarks made during Zac Goldsmith’s London mayoral campaign in 2016, and Johnson’s derogatory comments relating to Muslim women wearing burqas, “give the impression to many that the party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities”, the report found.
At the time the report was released, former party chair Amanda Milling, said the Conservatives accepted all its recommendations and they would release a plan on how to deliver on this.
It included measures such as publishing a new complaints policy and procedure in six months time, and introducing training on acceptable social media for local Conservative party associations, which launched at Conference.
At the time Milling said: “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.”
But Khan believes progress cannot be made within the party until it adopts the APPG on British Muslims’ definition on Islamophobia.
The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and the Scottish Conservatives are already using the definition, which is: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.
In June, then minister for local government, Luke Hall, rejected Labour’s call for the definition to be adopted by the Tories, saying it was not in line with the Equality Act 2010. Hall believed it would have severe consequences for freedom of speech, though the government does not and will not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred in any form.
A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain backed Khan’s latest intervention and said focus should remain on the Conservative party and the action they take on Islamophobia. They noted the party has not yet set out any tangible action five months on from the Singh report’s findings.
“With Islamophobia Awareness Month coming up in November, the party has yet another opportunity to show it cares about British Muslim communities by taking the Singh investigation, and MCB’s, recommendations seriously, and finally taking action to end the endemic Islamophobia within its rank and file,” the spokesperson said.
“A primary step towards doing so would be the adoption of the APPG on British Muslims definition of Islamophobia, the most widely endorsed definition to date. Anything less will confirm that the Conservative Party is only interested in words, not action.”
The six month deadline for action from the publication of the Singh report is due this November.
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