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Braverman, Anderson and tired Tory Islamophobia

Comments by senior Conservative politicians and lack of consequences are symptomatic of the party’s long-standing Islamophobia and racism, writes Stuart Cartland

4 to 5 minute read

Suella Braverman speaking, racism, Islamophobia, Conservative Party

The Conservatives have long been known to be racist, Islamophobic and deeply opposed to multiculturalism. However, recent claims by Suella Braverman and Lee Anderson set a worrying precedent as to how far to the right they are willing to push their narratives around identity and blame.

On 23 February, Braverman reignited long-smouldering right-wing arguments by writing in the Daily Telegraph that Britain is ‘sleepwalking into a ghettoised society’ and is not a country ‘where different races and faiths [coexist] peacefully’. Here Braverman is weaponising difference within a multicultural and multi-ethnic society, drawing lazy and ideologically motivated conclusions that reinforce tired but dominant conservative tropes. However, this is in fact a dangerous and misleading characterisation of a largely successful multicultural society, in spite of social dereliction by the incumbent government. 

Since Braverman’s comments, Islamophobia within the Conservative Party has once again been making headline news, with former Lancashire MEP Sajjad Karim quitting the party on 6 March over its failure to tackle Islamophobia. This was quickly followed by the unsurprising revelation that Frank Hester, donor of more than £10m and a helicopter to the Conservatives, had stated that the UK’s first black female MP Diane Abbott ‘should be shot’ and ‘makes you want to hate all black women’.

Nothing new

Attacks and ideologically motivated claims around multiculturalism and ethnic minorities are nothing new from successive Conservatives in government in recent years. For example,  David Cameron’s first speech on radicalisation and the causes of terrorism squarely blamed state multiculturalism and its failure, along with countless claims and comments by Boris Johnson.

Indeed, Braverman’s claims are largely based on a rehashing of Trevor Phillips’ assertion, as chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2005, that Britain was ‘sleepwalking into segregation’, in the wake of the 2001 riots in Bradford and Oldham. These claims have been subsequently heavily criticised as overly simplistic, misleading and dangerous assertions, blaming ethnic minorities for a willing failure to integrate and their own positioning within segregated ghettoised communities. 

Britain is more diverse and multicultural than it has ever been – the 2021 census informs us that the population is now 74 per cent white British as opposed to 87 per cent in 2001. Braverman’s point around ghettoisation is a deeply misleading claim. Further, Braverman is only referring to a specific factor – ethnic and racial segregation – and equating this with a disfigured society.

The reality is that ethnicity intersects with socio-economic factors to perpetuate segregation (although her own story, Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel’s are just a few obvious examples where ethnic minorities have now been able to occupy positions of power, influence and extreme wealth previously considered unimaginable). To claim that it is the fault of the disempowered to choose to live in impoverished communities is a diversion from the huge increase in wealth and class divisions we have witnessed over the past 14 years of Conservative rule. 

These episodes also feed into a wider pattern of the right in the UK blaming the disempowered for their own position within society, which the government uses to take a further hard-line approach, for example the treatment of benefit claimants or asylum seekers. Nevertheless, the obvious issue here is that the Conservatives have a very real problem with racism (particularly Islamophobia) and victim blaming. Recent weeks have provided a telling insight into how dominant toxic ideological narratives around identity, race and ethnicity have become within the Conservative Party, and how far they are willing to let them be spread as a quasi-official position. 

A many-headed beast

Braverman’s claims came at almost the exact same time as Lee Anderson boasted that London Mayor Sadiq Khan is controlled by Islamists. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s long silence on this further indicated the depths of these positions. This was quickly followed by Tory MP Paul Scully reiterating a prominent and virulent right wing (and utterly unfounded) conspiracy claim that parts of Birmingham and London are no-go areas for non-Muslims, a claim for which he later apologised as being false. Meanwhile, back in October, the Conservative candidate for the London Mayorship was condemned for endorsing references to the capital as Londonistan and claiming that Jewish Londoners are frightened of Sadiq Khan. 

Clearly these unfounded statements are both subjective hate-speech and dangerous political rhetoric. Findings published on 28 February by Hope Not Hate indicated that over half of all Conservative Party members believe Islam constitutes a threat to a so-called ‘British way of life’. The same poll also showed that almost half of members viewed immigration negatively whilst well over half similarly viewed the Roma/ traveller community in a negative light. Anderson’s claims that Khan had ‘given our capital city away to his mates’ and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden’s refusal to comment over whether these claims were Islamophobic reinforce the deeply racist narratives openly spun in Conservative circles to the wider public. 

Clearly, these unfounded statements are both subjective hate-speech and dangerous political rhetoric

These narratives and acts of scapegoating demonstrate how, in times of desperation and lack of party authority, extreme and fundamental ideological approaches come to the fore and whip up a frenzied atmosphere of hate led by the right wing press. What Braverman and Anderson have done is to incite racially motivated blame, which has been passively accepted by the British government as acceptable (and legitimises similar approaches and narratives in the media). By contrast, the most questionable allegations of antisemitism from the Labour Party are dealt with in a completely different manner. 

Islamophobia (and racism) are largely viewed here as an acceptable ideological position and indeed as a legitimate means to blame failings within British society. The Conservative Party has clearly fuelled the mainstreaming of right-wing narratives in recent years over issues such as immigration, gender politics and environmental concerns, however these latest revelations are a shocking indicator of how dominant these narratives have become.

Stuart Cartland is a Lecturer at the University of Sussex and author of Constructing Realities: Identity, Discourse and Englishness (Emerald Publishing, 2023)

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