Following complaints from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has recently called for closer investigation of potential Islamophobia within the Conservative party. This has come following allegations of anti-muslim behaviour within the Tories, as well as amidst accusations of antisemitism within Mr. Corbyn’s own party. But how justified are these claims? Should we take Jezza’s advice and investigate Islamophobia within the conservatives?
The short answer is: absolutely.
No Space for Double-Standards
The long answer is: absolutely, but only because we should scrutinise all parties for any prejudices. It’s important that voters be aware of what they’re voting for, and exposing any underlying bigotry is necessary for this.
An immediate parallel is obviously the recent scandal involving antisemitism in the Labour party, which arose from certain members of the party making comments anti-Jew comments, and resulted in the resignation of long-time Corbyn ally Ken Livingstone. When these allegations arose, the Labour party was rightly held up to the light and investigated.
This was the correct thing to do. It’s paramount that the parties remain accountable to the population, the diversity of which requires that there be no insidious bigotry against certain groups. Whether you take the view that Labour dealt with its antisemitism problem or not, the fact that the allegations were investigated so deeply, and that the pressure on the leadership to act became so intense as to result in the resignation of major party members, is a sign of a healthy, pluralistic democracy.
Thus, we must apply these exact same standards to the Conservative party today. Allegations of Islamophobia deserve just as much attention as antisemitism received in the Labour party.
However, Conservative leadership seems to be reluctant to launch any sort of inquiry into the issue. For instance, Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s dismissal of the claims based on his own position as a high-ranking Muslim within the party, as well as based on claims of extremism in the accusing MCB, does very little to ease concerns of bigotry within the party, and comes across as simply batting the issue away.
Indeed, this demonstrates the need for more pressure on Conservative leadership to investigate the claims, especially from tory members themselves. Just as Momentum pressured the Labour leadership to deal with its antisemitism problem, so too is it the responsibility of Conservatives to lead the call for inquiry here.
Fortunately, this seems to be happening. Tory Peer Lord Mohamed Sheikh has recently urged PM Theresa May to deal with the issue. Hopefully, more members will echo the senior lord’s call and push better scrutiny within the party.
With both main parties having similar problems with prejudice, however, it’s important that claims and investigations be taken seriously, and don’t become ammunition for the other team.
Don’t Politicise Bigotry
What I mean by this is that we must avoid the issue becoming partisan; certain members of the Labour party may feel tempted to use these accusations of Islamophobia as a new way of dragging their rival, just as certain Conservatives may do with claims of antisemitism. An op-ed piece in The Guardian is a good example of this. The piece claims claims that Islamophobia has become ‘gentrified’ by the Tories, and that there is an overlap between Conservative anti-immigration stances and anti-muslim prejudices.
This is rather problematic, as it implies that certain tory policies may be, in some way, inherently linked with Islamophobic views. In this way, this perspective goes one step further from advocating scrutiny of Islamophobic incidents and members, and implies that the party itself may the problem.
The issue with this is that such hyperbolic claims may desensitise people from the problems. It’s far easier to dismiss Islamophobia as an unsupported smear from the left when the whole party structure is being called into question, rather than isolated incidents.
Likewise, it would make little sense for those on the right to claim the entire Labour party is inherently antisemitic, as such claims are so dramatic as to be easily dismissed as slander. The incentives to take claims seriously are thus damaged, potentially hindering the inquiry.
Ultimately the point of these allegations is to ensure that bigotry and prejudice do not stealthily influence the two main parties, not to provide material to use against them. It serves in everyone’s best interests that the governing parties be as open and non-discriminatory as possible; this should be a common goal amongst Labour and Conservative sympathisers alike.
Thus, we absolutely should be pushing for further investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative party, as we should with antisemitism in Labour. There must be no partisanship here, but a common goal to keep prejudice out of Westminster. It’s important that these allegations do not become part of the mainstream debate, but a constant barrier against bigotry.