Responding to Professor Singh’s independent Investigation into Alleged Discrimination within the Conservative party, Iman Atta OBE, director of Tell MAMA said:
All political parties in this country should have a zero tolerance to anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia. Tell MAMA is well placed given the decade of work monitoring, tackling and supporting victim of anti-Muslim hatred, to assist all political parties going forward.
There is no room for complacency what so ever in tackling this form of poisonous hatred‘No longer can some local Conservative associations suspend and re-admit people who have expressed anti-Muslim hatred. This is not going to wash anymore. There is a line about hatred, once crossed, there are repercussions’
Given the prescriptive remit of the Singh investigation, we undertook a dip test of Twitter accounts from elected Conservative party councillors, for evidence of discriminatory content or language directed at or about Muslims, to be investigated whilst highlighting our continued concerns about structural failings to address the misconduct of some councillors online, and the need for structural reforms to ensure the party has a rigid and transparent complaints apparatus.
We have long reminded politicians across all political life of their responsibility in the language they use as to not normalise harmful stereotypes and how it influences public discourse.
The Conservative party must now adapt to stringent recommendations and policies to fully investigate reports, with transparency, to reassure Muslim communities that complaints will be handled diligently and with due care. It must take forward the recommendations of the Singh investigation, to address inadequacies with clear timescales of action, and identify further steps to rebuild trust.
Accountability is not a static motion; it requires movements towards meaningful change and engagement. It must address and challenge anti-Muslim and Islamophobic attitudes in party members, acknowledge past mistakes and stop denying the scale of the issue, and create pathways forward. Confidence in the complaints system is contingent that it sufficiently deters and prevents further harm and wrongdoing, too often, the timing, nature of the sanction, and transparency around the decision-making process lacks sufficient accountability, meaning inadequacies in its structure do not address the fundamental problems.
We need more than tick-box exercises and one-off diversity training sessions, into more structured ways to address structural and interpersonal biases and discrimination. A cultural change must occur.
Tell MAMA has continued to offer training and recourses to political parties, including the Conservatives, to ensure their social media guidelines, codes of conduct, and guidance are stringent in understanding that a zero-tolerance approach means just that. And, where required, Tell MAMA offered training materials and sessions for councillors and party staff about anti-Muslim hatred, discrimination, and Islamophobia.
Regarding the conduct of councillors online, in tandem with new robust party mechanisms internally, we urge the Government to amend Section 27 (2) of the Localism Act 2011, meaning that councillors will be presumed to be acting in an official capacity which will allow local authorities to apply a code of conduct for members when claiming to act (or give the impression of such) when fulfilling their role as a member of the local authority. These recommendations were outlined in the report “Local Government Ethical Standards – A Review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life” published in 2019. Given the sheer concerning levels of online reports cited in the Singh investigation, there must be added impetus to review and implement these recommendations. Too often, the conflation and confusion between personal and professional council accounts have meant some avoided sanction for comments that have no place in politics and fail The Seven Principles of Public Life. For example, just last year, Dorset councillor Beverley Dunlop was cleared and found to be posting in a personal capacity after writing on Facebook: “”I hate to ban anything really but I’d suggest we start with mosques.” Such discriminatory remarks have no place in elected positions or politics more broadly. It was also alarming to learn that Cllr Dunlop faced death threats, which no public official should face.
Our investigation revealed examples of one councillor engaging with a known anti-Muslim and Islamophobic extremist on Twitter, long after their ban on entering the UK became public knowledge.
The report mentions how Boris Johnson’s comments resulted in “a large increase of anti-Muslim events reported to Tell MAMA” but does not comment further. For context, that 375% rise in reports from 8 incidents the previous week, to 38 in the following week. Of the 38 incidents in the first week, 22 (57.89%) were directed at visibly Muslim women who wore the face veil (niqab) or other veiling practices. Examples include Muslim women being called “letterboxes” on the street by men, or called ‘post box,’ or targeted with harmful comments from others when queuing at a doctors surgery.
Due to the report not naming our submission, we are unable to comment about the outcomes of the new social media cases we identified and have forwarded to CCHQ.
We have been consistent in our calls for an enquiry into this issue since the London Mayoral Elections of 2015, as have many others. As we await the response of the Conservative party, we also wait on how the Equalities and Human Rights Commission responds.
The Singh investigation must also respond to serious allegations that evidence of discrimination for the report was overlooked or ignored.
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