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Prejudice in political parties: why it’s in everyone’s interest to root it out

Prejudice in political parties: why it’s in everyone’s interest to root it out

Categories: Latest News

Thursday February 28 2019

The recent formation of ‘The Independent Group’ (IG) of MPs, made up of former Labour and Conservative party members, has come as a surprise to the political world. Some former Labour MPs cited the party’s slow response in dealing with anti-Semitism as a reason why they chose to break away. Similarly, some of those who left the Conservative party said their former party’s pandering to the far-right is why they chose to depart.

Despite the fact one of these new IG MP’s, Angela Smith, went on to refer to people from minority ethnic backgrounds as having a “funny tinge”, the statements of the rebel MPs suggest that it is problematic for the leading mainstream political parties to sweep the issues faced by minority communities under the carpet.

Even if they don’t lose MPs as a result of their perceived inaction over racism and prejudice, political parties will lose the support and votes of the sections of British society who feel excluded from wider society. It is only natural for the public to look at the way in which the parties are handling allegations of racism and feel that instead of resolving the issues, they’re simply using them as ammunition to win political points against their opponents.

Ultimately, parties which continue to pander to xenophobia alienate large, and increasingly assertive, swathes of British society at their own peril.

The Conservative party, for example, paid for vans to be driven around ethnically populous areas encouraging illegal immigrants to “go home”, and pledged to reduce immigration, as part of the ‘hostile environment’. These controversies signal a clear shift and pandering to far-right rhetoric, which is almost always laced with Islamophobic sentiments. Such a shift to the far-right is a response to the successes of similar populist discourse around the world. Some politicians believe embracing these tropes will help them gain (or remain in) power.

While pandering to right-wing rhetoric may have galvanised support for the party amongst those circles, it has not proven to be the fast-track to victory some may have envisaged. For example, let us examine the 2017 General Election results in Kensington, which has a minority electorate of 32%. Even though Kensington had never been Labour prior to the election, the defeat of the Conservative party here suggests that their disconnection with the community, and perceived inaction in upholding the rights and interests of minority groups in particular, were factors which contributed to their downfall.

Indeed, the Conservatives suffering a 20% fall in the share of BME voters in the 2017 general election – the lowest level for 16 years. This translated into a 40% loss of seats for the Conservatives in areas where 30% or more of the electorate were from an ethnic minority, showing how important it is for political parties to maintain the support of minority voters.

The Conservative party in particular has been accused of “very widespread” Islamophobia by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the former party co-chair. We have seen a 40% increase in religious hate crime from 2016/17 to 2017/18, with over 50% of it being committed against Muslims. It is therefore unfortunate that in this climate, Conservative politicians such as Bob Blackman and Mike Payne have been found to have made or shared Islamophobic content. Adding insult to injury, Boris Johnson likened Muslim women to letterboxes in the national media leading to many Muslim women stating how they were verbally and physically abused following his comments.

The implicit acceptance of such blatantly Islamophobic rhetoric can damage a party’s prospects of victory, as the “dog whistle” Islamophobic and racist tactics used during the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith demonstrated.

What the above examples of Islamophobia demonstrate is the need to reassure Muslims of their place in society, and to repair the harm of such rhetoric. One way to do this is through an independent and transparent inquiry into Islamophobia.

Nevertheless, the Conservative party has ignored calls for an inquiry and has consistently failed to take effective or adequate action against people, like Boris Johnson, for their Islamophobic conduct.

If groups affected by racism and hatred see political parties taking a pragmatic approach towards rooting it out within their own ranks, it will reassure them that effective steps are being taken to root it out in the wider public. As for the political advantages of conducting such an inquiry, it can help often-marginalised sections of society feel like their views are being addressed and taken seriously by the party.

Conducting an inquiry into Islamophobia will send a powerful message of condemnation to those who think they can victimise, abuse and exclude Muslims with impunity. The findings need to be published, and effective codes of conduct need to be laid out. Those within parties who fall short of adhering to the respective code are to be publicly named and threatened with dismissal unless they rectify their wrongdoings.

Taking the initiative to launch such an inquiry will encourage minority communities to fully exercise their right to engage with the political process – voting won’t simply be seen by minority communities as a choice between one party which recognises and strives for their right to equality and protection from harm, and another which does not appear to acknowledge or respect this fundamental human right



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