• Tuesday, May 24, 2022

HEADLINE STORY

‘Tories have a problem with Asians’

File photo of British Conservative Party MP Nusrat Ghani (C) during a demonstration. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

By: SARWAR ALAM

As party faces Islamophobia allegations, Sunak touted as next leader

THE Conservative party has a problem with black and Asian ministers, an influential Tory politician has said, after MP Nusrat Ghani’s claimed last week she was sacked in a reshuffle because of her ‘Muslimness’.

Former junior transport minister Ghani, who was the first Muslim woman to speak from the Commons dispatch box, was sacked from her post in 2020, allegedly because her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”.

In an interview with the Sunday Times (23), Ghani recalled being told by a whip during her sacking that she “wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations”.

Though the 49-year-old didn’t identify the MP, Conservative party chief whip Mark Spencer came forward late last Saturday (22) as the person in question.  He labelled the accusations as “completely false”.

Britain's Chief Whip Mark Spencer
Britain’s Chief Whip Mark Spencer (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

In an interview with Eastern Eye this week, a senior Tory politician confirmed there was prejudice against ethnic MPs in the party. “There’s no doubt that they (Muslim MPs) have a tough time,” the politician told this paper on the condition of anonymity.

“Certainly, among the membership, I would say, rather than the MPs, there is much more discrimination). But frankly, it’s not just anti Muslim, it’s anti-brown, anti-black type of attitude.

“There’s no doubt the Conservative Party disguises it. They won’t sort of display it outwardly.”

The politician added, “It’s sickening (what’s happened to Ghani). I have a huge amount of respect for someone who’s accomplished what she has. She’s fearless. She’s talked about the Uyghurs and is one of the people who’s got banned officially by China.

“The fact that she’s got so much widespread support, people coming out and backing her, shows you that she’s well liked among her colleagues.”

Boris Johnson has ordered a Cabinet investigation into Nusrat Ghani’s claims of discrimination
Boris Johnson has ordered a Cabinet
investigation into Nusrat Ghani’s claims of discrimination

Ghani is believed to have privately confided in health secretary Sajid Javid, who acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and asked her to escalate the matter.

The MP for Wealden then spoke to prime minister Boris Johnson in July 2020, but she decided against his recommendation to submit a complaint to the party as she felt an independent organisation should investigate “something that happened on government business”.

On Monday (24), however, Johnson ordered a Cabinet investigation into Ghani’s claims. Javid, who is expected to be called as a witness, last Sunday described Ghani as “a credit to the Conservative Party and someone I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard”.

Health secretary Sajid Javid
Health secretary Sajid Javid (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi also came out in support of Ghani. Her allegations are the latest in a longlist of complaints against the Tory party of being allegedly Islamophobic.

The party launched in 2019 an inquiry into the issue, which was led by Professor Swaran Singh, a former equality and human rights commissioner.

His report found that 1,418 complaints relating to 727 separate incidents were recorded on the Tories’ complaints database between 2015 and 2020. Two-thirds of all incidents related to allegations of anti-Muslim discrimination.

Former party chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a critic of her party’s handling of Islamophobia allegations, said she believes “Islamophobic racism is not viewed as seriously as other forms of racism” in the Conservative Party and added “action is rarely taken until the media is involved”.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

The Runnymede Trust, the Women and Equalities Committee think-tank, the Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), and the Muslim Council of Britain have all have all echoed Baroness Warsi’s call for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to intervene following Ghani’s revelations.

Tory peer Lord Mohamed Sheikh also urged Johnson to launch an independent investigation, saying he was “disturbed” by Ghani’s claim that she felt “ostracised by colleagues.”

“Nusrat Ghani said she has been intimidated, she has been bullied. We must undertake an investigation, but that must be undertaken by an independent person, not anybody connected with a party,” Lord Sheikh told Eastern Eye.

“But the prime minister is going to get the Cabinet Office to undertake the investigation. That’s the next best thing. But there are certain points I’d like to make.

“First, the terms of reference need to be clearly agreed and defined and Nusrat Ghani should be a party to it. And if need be, you’ve got to have the other side as well (chief whip Mark Spencer). Ghani must be interviewed. And she should be asked ‘who are the people who caused you problems?’

“We need to interview all of these people individually and not just look at emails and exchange of text messages.”

Lord Sheikh
Lord Sheikh

Lord Sheikh, who is also the founder and president of the Conservative Muslim Forum, added, “When the investigation is carried out, the report should be in public domain, no parts of it need to be truncated.”

He has written to party co-chairman Oliver Dowden seeking an update on the steps taken to implement professor Singh’s directives. He also asked why the party had been “so slow” at defining the term Islamophobia, seen as a key point by campaigners in tackling the issue.

A definition for Islamophobia was drawn up by the all-party group for British Muslims in 2019. However, the government rejected it and said it would appoint two advisers to create a new one.

Lord Sheikh said, “We need the word Islamophobia to be defined. I raised this in 2019 in the House of Lords and I was told that two advisers will be appointed and the definition will be agreed. Then, last November, I raised the point again, but nothing tangible has been done over a period of two years. I was told only one advisor has been appointed, second has not been appointed. The Conservative Party is the ruling party and they must really get the definition going.

Labour MP Naz Shah, vice-chairwoman of the all-party group on British Muslims, said previously, “The government’s complete and utter neglect on working to accept a definition of Islamophobia highlights how much consideration it gives to tackling the very real form of racism.”

Imam Qari Asim is the sole advisor on Islam the government has appointed so far. He revealed on Tuesday (25) that he has failed to get any response from the government despite sending numerous letters and emails.

Imam Qari Asim
Imam Qari Asim

Lord Sheikh said while he accepts there are issues within the party, he does not believe it is institutionally racist and that the diversity within the Cabinet reflects this. With doubts over prime minister Johnson’s future, Lord Sheikh said the UK could soon have an Asian prime minister in Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel or Javid.

“If you look at the cabinet, this is the most diverse cabinet which has ever been. Rishi Sunak or Sajid Javid may become prime minister.

“I believe the UK is ready for Asian prime minister – Ireland had a half-Indian as their prime minister (Leo Varadkar). The way Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid have performed during the pandemic has been admirable.”

Speaking anonymously, the influential Tory politician told Eastern Eye either Sunak or Javid could be in the race to succeed Johnson. “They’re good friends. Sajid might support Rishi with a view to hopefully getting a big position if Rishi becomes prime minister. I think he would like love to be foreign secretary.

“I think the fact that he (Sunak) came out of the pandemic as one of the few politicians who have had their reputation enhanced tells me that for once I think there is somebody who could have widespread support in the country.

“He would then need to prove himself, but going into what I think will be an economic crisis, and potentially a recession towards the back end of this year, I do think Rishi is a far better person to navigate through that.”

Former Conservative MP Paul Uppal (who represented Powell’s seat in Wolverhampton South West) told this paper he faced no racism during his time in the party and believes his colleagues and the general public would welcome a British Asian prime minister “with open arms”.

“I think Britain is ready for an Asian prime minister, when you look at the way the Asian communities integrated into the UK, it’s been one of the great success stories,” he said. “Obviously, there are issues. But, if you look at the broad spectrum, I think the British public are probably more receptive to this idea than a lot of other places in the world. I think the whole country would be quite warm and quite receptive to the idea.”

Action on Singh report sought

THE chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, Dr Halima Begum, told the Guardian: “This is an incredibly serious situation. At a bare minimum, the allegation that a minister of the crown was fired for her so-called ‘Muslimness’ would represent a flagrant challenge to our equalities and labour laws.

“The facts and questions about the legality of what has happened must be urgently investigated by the highest authority. If the allegations are proven to be true, Nusrat would have been subjected to grossly discriminatory behaviour.

“(Her) distress will be felt by every one of the three million Muslims in the country, as well as every member of our religious minority communities. All of the political parties need to do more to demonstrate zero tolerance for discrimination, and to prove that religious minorities in this country are respected regardless of their faith.”

Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, described Ghani’s treatment as “appalling” and said, “at the very least EHRC should have a look at it”.

The EHRC has said it is still looking at the Conservative party’s response to the Singh report and will ‘consider any findings’ from Whitehall investigators.

A spokeswoman said: “We have been monitoring the progress of the action plan from Professor Swaran Singh’s independent investigation. We have received regular updates from the party and have liaised with them on their progress. We will consider any findings from the Cabinet Office inquiry. If we are not satisfied with progress, we will not rule out the use of our legal powers.”

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