In the last few months, allegations of racism and discrimination within British politics have been rife. Sadly, racism seems to have permeated Westminster, with multiple parties facing scandals of their own. If it isn’t Labour’s anti-semitism debacle, it’s the hostility from Conservative MPs to the Windrush generation.
However, much of the outrage from the media and other politicians has been directed at Labour, whilst at the same time ignoring a long-standing issue of racism that has been allowed to fester within the Tory party. If we as a society are serious about rooting out racism in our political system, we must not employ double standards when it comes to doing so. I’m not engaging in “whataboutery” when I suggest that we take a look at the records of those pointing the fingers the most vigorously, at Labour. Nor am I trying to deflect from the very real issues at hand in the Labour party.
It seems that the way respective parties are portrayed in terms of their handling of racism is different. Unfairly so. Many Tory MPs (and indeed some Labour MPs) undeniably weaponised anti-semitism against Jeremy Corbyn. However, I do not see them taking such vocal exception to incidences of racism and discrimination by their own party, largely against Black people, as they did against anti-semitism. There have been no protests, no marches and no attacks by Tory MPs on those in their party responsible for such a botched proceeding, namely Theresa May and Amber Rudd.
All there has been is deflection, passing the buck and weak apologies. When Theresa May, in her role as Home Secretary, vowed to “Deport first, hear appeals later”, there was very little, if any, criticism from her own party. When she sent vans around the country, saying “Go Home”, in reference to immigrants outstaying their visas, there was very little criticism. In fact, her former adviser, Nick Timothy, denied she had even given approval of them, stating she was on holiday at the time. This was later proven to be untrue.
The latest Windrush scandal is only a small part of a bigger picture. Indeed, the Conservative party has had it’s fair share of racism incidents over the years. Yet, I don’t see anyone suggesting the whole party is awash with racism, as has been done to Labour. Theresa May isn’t being ripped to shreds by the media, or being called a racist for her actions.
Guilty by association is a favourite tactic of many media outlets when reporting on Corbyn’s Labour. Corbyn met with Martin McGuinness after engaging in peace talks, so the media lambasted him as an IRA sympathiser. A Tory council candidate was revealed, recently, to have links to the far-right English Defence League, but I don’t see tabloid front pages condemning the whole party. This candidate recently went canvassing with Tory MP James Cleverley, and is a member of Generation Identity – an anti-Islam movement. One would like to think members of the party would be quick to condemn a man with associations such as this, but it just has not happened.
In 2015, a former aide of Margaret Thatcher, claimed the party was “essentially racist”. He echoed claims made as early as 2001, when Tory MP Andrew Lansley, spoke out about “endemic racism” in his party, claiming “it is in the system”. It is hard to believe much has changed, given the frequency with which more incidents have come to light since. A year later, Boris Johnson referred to black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, only bothering to apologise 6 years later, when he was campaigning to be the Mayor of London. His party took no disciplinary action of any kind.
Whilst editor at The Spectator, Boris also published an article that claimed “Blacks have lower IQs”. Again, he apologised in 2008, and no disciplinary action was taken. Weak apologies years later and lack of disciplinary action seem to be a recurring theme in terms of the way the party deals with racism. Yet, the media play into the narrative of Boris being just a posh eccentric, who is harmless, and he seems immune from criticism or discipline by his own party.
Newton Abbot MP, Anne Marie Morris, who last year used an anti-black slur, has recently had the whip restored, after having been suspended. It’s all well and good for many prominent Tory MPs to make demands about how the Labour party should handle anti-semitism, but at least practice what you preach, and ensure your house is in order first.
It’s not just anti-black rhetoric spouted by various members of the Conservative party. In 2009, Tory MP David Wilshire, compared the exposing of MP expenses to the actions of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. David Cameron asked him to apologise, but he did not face any disciplinary action. In 2011, Tory MP for Cannock Chase, Aidan Burley helped organise a Nazi-themed stag party, which he was only disciplined for over a year later. Astoundingly, he was cleared of any wrong-doing by an internal Tory inquiry in 2014.
In May 2014, a Tory activist tweeted that “Every single Muslim should be expelled from this country” and called for Mosques to be demolished. The Conservative party denied he was even a member, yet in actual fact, it transpired he was the former Secretary of his local Conservative Association. In the same year, the UCL Conservative society was also reported to have been embroiled in a racism scandal, after comments surfaced of members being anti-semitic. One comment stated “Jews own everything, we all know it’s true. I wish I was Jewish, but my nose isn’t long enough”. There is no evidence in the public domain to suggest the party investigated the comments.
So, rather than take decisive action to eradicate racism within their party, the Tories dragged their feet on a myriad of incidents. Any right-minded individual would absolutely agree that everyone, regardless of party allegiance, has a duty to call out and clamp down on racism in whatever form. However, there is a huge double standard at play, which makes it difficult to take the advice of those in the Conservative party, and take their claims of being anti-racism particularly seriously. Of course, the party has suspended some members, such as the Derby council candidate who said she would never support
“The Jew”, in reference to Ed Miliband, but action is not being taken consistently. I’m sure there are many within the party who do oppose such vitriol. But they, just like many members of the Labour party on anti-semitism, must speak out and demand better, both for the party and the electorate.