The Conservative party is regularly beset by allegations of racism against its MPs, councillors and candidates but even the most offensive comments rarely result in serious disciplinary action, a dossier reveals today (Thursday).
The claim is made by Unite the union, which has helped compile an examination of media reports stretching from 1989 to the present day, finding a party of `endemic racism’, the term coined by then Conservative MP Andrew Lansley back in 2001.
Unite has called for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to take a closer look at the conduct of the Conservative party and to consider if its repeated reliance of negative `dog-whistle’ campaigning is damaging race and community relations in the UK.
The report details cases of elected Conservative representatives using racist abuse like “Pakis”, “pikies”, and “piccaninnies” – as well as several anti-Semitic or Islamophobic remarks.
However, in most cases those making the comments have not been expelled from the party. Some continue to hold senior office within the Conservative Party, including the outgoing London mayor and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson, and cabinet minister Oliver Letwin.
Commenting, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Now voters can see for themselves the sort of party the Conservative party is and the sort of government this prime minister is happy to lead. It is a party where the routine denigration of peoples and culture is too often met with no more than a shake of the head.
“It is a disgrace and the prime minister has debased his office, not only by allowing a culture of division to be fostered in the London mayoral election campaign but to use the House of Commons as the platform for his hateful brand of dog-whistle politics.
“How dare he whip up fury about the Labour party, which has acted swiftly and thoroughly when allegations of racism among members is made in sharp contrast to his party’s behaviour.
“He is dragging this country back by decades and his party into the sewer.
“The Equality and Human Rights Commission should look very closely at the conduct of the Conservative party and its repeated indulgence of fear-based politics. Heed the warning from one of their own, Baroness Warsi, that the dog-whistle politics beloved by this prime minister and his party is damaging our country.”
Unite officer for equalities Harish Patel added: “These comments have no place in British life but by indulging them this Conservative government is sending out a signal that prejudice and racism are acceptable.
“The Labour movement has fought for years to tackle racism, with little or no help whatsoever from the Conservative party. In fact, its nasty mayoral campaign in London is undoing the decent work communities have done to build bridges between one another. The message from the Conservative party is that ignorance, intolerance and racism have a place in their ranks.”
Among the incidents detailed in the report are:
• In a 2002 column for the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson (then MP for Henley) described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. No disciplinary action was taken by the Conservative Party.
• In February 2009, Bolton Conservative councillor Bob Allen posted a picture of a gorilla alongside a critical comment about an Asian Labour councillor on a blog. According to his Twitter profile, he remains a Tory councillor.
• In March 2009, Leicestershire Tory councillor Robert Fraser said that Romanians would "stick a knife in you as soon as look at you", and “some of these European ones, they make the Irish look like complete amateurs.” He stood again for the Tories.
• In January 2010, Tory councillor for Colne, Smith Benson, complained that there were “too many P***s” in his town. Council leader Tony Beckett refused to discipline him.
• In August 2011, Tory Dover councillor Bob Frost described people involved in the riots as “jungle bunnies”. He lost his teaching job but the Conservative Party only suspended him for two months. In 2014, he referred to the prospective Middle Eastern buyers of Dover port as “sons of camel drivers”. No disciplinary action was taken.
• In January 2013, an Enfield Tory councillor Chris Joannides compared Muslim children to black bin bags in a Facebook post.
• In May 2014, Tory Coulsdon activist Stephen Lees tweeted “Every single Muslim should be expelled from this country – not deported – expelled, and every mosque demolished”.
• In August 2014 a UCL Conservative Society members was reported to have commented “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 that the Conservative Party investigated this.
• In April 2015, a Tory council candidate in Luton, David Coulter, described Travellers as “pikies” and “thieving troublemakers”. He was suspended.
• In May 2015, Tory councillor for Leicestershire Bob Fahey referred to a fellow councillor as a “Chink”. There is no record of any disciplinary action and apparently remains a Conservative councillor.
• In December 2015, it was revealed that Oliver Letwin, when advisor to prime minister Margaret Thatcher, had described black people as having “bad moral attitudes”, and saying schemes to help black people would be spent in “the disco and drugs trade” and employment programmes would only see black people “graduate … into unemployment and crime”. No disciplinary action was taken. Mr Letwin remains a cabinet minister.
• On 27 January 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron described refugees fleeing Syria as “a bunch of migrants”. He has previously spoken of a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean.” He has yet to apologise for either comment.
Only two incidents where appropriate action was taken were found:
• In April 2016, Fareham Tory councillor David Whittingham mimicked foreign accents, said he didn’t want foreigners living in his road and made comments and behaviour that were “racist in nature”. He was expelled from the Conservative Party.
• In April 2016, the deputy chairman of Bradford Conservative Association, Abdul Zaman, made inappropriate comments about Jews and women while speaking at a launch event for the local election campaign. He was suspended.
A copy of the full document can be found at www.unitetheunion.org/racismdossier
Notes to Editors:
The EHRC’s legal or enforcement powers include:
• clarifying the law, so people and organisations have a clearer understanding of their rights and duties
• highlighting priority issues and force these back to the top of the agenda
• challenging policies or practices that cause significant disadvantage, sometimes across a whole industry or sector
For further information contact Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861 or the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065.
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.