Following my letter to Conservative Party chair Brandon Lewis last week, two things have happened.
Firstly, Mr Lewis replied to my email. You can read what he had to say in this piece on the Sky News website. In short, he insisted that the Tories already take the issue very seriously, saying “We take swift action when complaints are made to CCHQ, immediately referring them for investigation.”
Secondly, there have been more reports of complaints about Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. Buzzfeed News reported that more than two dozen activists had had action taken against them – after they were confronted with evidence from the outlet. The Guardian reported that fifteen Conservatives had been quietly reinstated after being suspended. Sadiq Khan reported at the weekend that, “I have lost track of the number of Conservative councillors and members that have been suspended or faced legal action as a result of making Islamophobic comments towards or about me.”
It is clear that the Conservatives have an issue, and that they are not dealing with it robustly enough. We’ve written again to Brandon Lewis for some specific answers to specific questions. We need to know how the party defines Islamophobia, and how they deal with complaints they receive, and we need to know now.
It would appear that the Conservative Party is making many of the same mistakes as the Labour Party made in dealing with accusations of antisemitism from its members.
Here’s my reply to Brandon Lewis:
Dear Mr. Lewis,
Thank you for your reply. It contains many of the warm words you’ve been expressing online and in the media – which are welcome – but less in terms of specifics. I can’t help but take from your reply that you are not denying misleading us last year, when you said that there were no complaints outstanding at the time.
I want to follow up to see if you can further clarify your point that: “We take swift action when complaints are made to CCHQ, immediately referring them for investigation.” You also told us that “sanctions include suspensions and expulsions”, when members are found to have broken the party’s rules.
We understand your point that providing a running commentary on where an individual might be at any given point in the disciplinary process, but I am sure you can understand the concern that we and others have about the opaque nature of your disciplinary processes more generally. We would appreciate you providing some clarity on the following points, particularly given recent media reports that a number of members have been readmitted to the Party following initial suspension:
1) What definition of Islamophobia does the Conservative Party use in making judgements during disciplinary processes?
2) Who decides whether to refer a member for disciplinary consideration?
3) To whom are members referred to have their cases decided? Who sits on that committee or body? Who decides who sits on that committee or body?
4) Who decides on the measures taken against members who are deemed to have broken the party’s rules? Are these powers defined in writing?
5) Who decides on whether a member can be reinstated after suspension? On what grounds do they take those decisions?
6) How many complaints were made against members of the Conservative Party in 2018? How many of the cases were found to be proven? How many of those members were expelled from the party?
Hate crimes have been surging against Muslims in recent days and weeks. Just last week five mosques in Birmingham were attacked in one night. This makes it all the more alarming that in an atmosphere of fear for many Muslims, there are new reports of Conservative members having their suspensions for posting racist or inflammatory content lifted. People will rightly want to know on what basis the Conservative Party is taking these decisions.
Given the public nature of the debate, we will be sharing this letter, and our questions, with our supporters and with the media.
With best wishes,
CEO, HOPE not hate