Tories in denial over Islamophobia rife in the Conservative Party
The findings of an investigation conducted by Sir Laurie Magnus into Islamophobic comments made to MP Nusrat Ghani and a prospective breach of the ministerial code by the former Chief Whip Conservative Party, Mark Spencer, has concluded that there is no case to answer.
The public revelation by former transport minister, Nusrat Ghani that she had been sacked from her cabinet post as a transport minister in early 2020, because her ‘Muslimness’ was making her colleagues feel uncomfortable’, led two years later to a series of sensational headlines and the opening of an inquiry by the prime minister’s ethics advisor, Sir Laurie Magnus. The comments were attributed to the party’s Chief Whip, Mark Spencer who emphatically denied having made them, although there seems to have been little doubt in minds of most senior party members that Nusrat Ghani was telling the truth.
No breach of the ministerial code
The inquiry finally published its findings on Thursday 6th April 2023, which although noting ‘misgivings’ in respect of Spencer’s actions during his tenure as Chief Whip, failed to find any conclusive evidence that the remarks were actually made. In essence it was Mark Spencer’s word against Nusrat Ghani’s. The conclusion therefore, was that the inquiry could not find Mark Spencer in breach of the ministerial code.
A former Chief Political Correspondent at the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne wrote that he believed Nusrat Ghani to be a loyal and committed MP, somebody who would not invent such comments. He therefore believed that her rendition of the events was accurate. He did however offer another reason for her sacking. He recognised that she was quite different in upbringing and outlook from most of her cabinet colleagues. Nusrat Ghani had been brought up on a council estate in Birmingham, he wrote. She had attended a state school, although she had gone on to attend university and to get a job in the city before working for the BBC World Service in Myanmar, Russia and Afghanistan. This contrasted, as Oborne put it, from the ‘privately educated clique [which then surrounded] Prime Minister Boris Johnson’. Nusrat Ghani, he said ‘was the polar opposite of the pampered, entitled, privately educated’ other members of the cabinet.
Former Cabinet Minister and Conservative Party Chair, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi responded to the findings by stating:
‘We have people within in our party who have dubious racist views, and communicate with dubious racist language. The test of leadership is when the party and prime minister ensures people holding these views do not hold high office and do not influence policymaking in government.’
Sir Laurie Magnus stated in his findings that:
‘Both Ms Ghani and Mr Spencer consider each other to be mistaken in their recollections and both remain aggrieved and personally affected by the impact of this public disagreement. I would hope that, as dedicated public servants and ministers of the crown, they will now find a way to move on from these events.’
The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote to Sir Magnus in the light of his findings saying that the sacking had been:
‘an unsatisfactory experience for both ministers involved…but in the absence of clear evidence, it would not be right to take further action. I have spoken to both ministers and encouraged them to heed your advice to pull together in the finest tradition of public service’.
To many parliamentary members including senior figures on the opposition benches, the statements by both Sir Magnus and the Prime Minister smack of a cover-up. Angela Raynor, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, commented on the length of time taken to investigate the matter. She said:
‘It’s taken three years for a broken system to reach this unsatisfactory conclusion’
She described the report as ‘damning’ for a party, which has refused to adopt any formal definition of Islamophobia.
Fellow parliamentarian Anisa Mahmood, who is a Senior Policy Advisor/Researcher and a member of the Labour Party commented:
‘When a Muslim woman raises a direct experience of Islamophobic discrimination at the heart of Government and her party, those allegations should be treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated immediately…After all the denials, Mark Spencer was found to have misled the former Prime Minister and the public but still considered fit to be a Minister by Rishi Sunak.’
Muslim Council of Britain's Dossier evidenced a staggering level of Islamophobia
It will be of note to many observers that despite a substantial report produced by the Muslim Council of Britain detailing widespread Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, which was published and presented to the government and subsequently to the EHRC at the time of the incident in 2020, any public recognition or any meaningful action has failed to materialise.
At the time of submitting the report, which provided evidence of incidents involving over 300 individuals, including councillors and party members, new MPs and even Number 10 special advisers, including Dominic Cummings and Andrew Sabisky, the MCB executive issued the following statement:
‘Since becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has made a number of strong statements against Islamophobia and against the tolerance of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. He has claimed the Party has a ‘zero tolerance approach… we have one bounce and we deal with it approach to this.’ The Party has also separately confirmed anti-Islam comments ‘have no place in society’. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case, with scores of incidents showing a pattern of behaviour ignoring complaints of Islamophobia and allowing those found to have engaged in Islamophobia to retain their membership, and often, their elected positions.