Racism does not matter when it is from the right.
That is the impression given in Britain currently. Each day there is unrelenting coverage about the Labour Party and its alleged anti-Semitism row. The same headlines are rinsed and repeated and the same pundits appear on national radio and television demanding immediate change.
In any other period, these would be welcome signs. They would be indicative that a plethora of MP’s, commentators and activists are determined to depose of any form of racism in Britain’s political sphere and wider society.
But that could not be further from the truth. Anti-Semitism is ghastly, unacceptable and should be eradicated by any means possible. But that does not mean accepting or normalising other forms of racism. Indeed, Islamophobia in the Conservative Party is rampant but does not receive the same exposure. Does racism only count when it is anti-Semitism in the Labour Party? That would set a deeply damaging precedent in Britain if true.
Labour official statistics and records show that anti-Semitism in Labour accounts for approximately 0.06% of the membership. Even if that figure is multiplied by 10, Labour’s anti-Semitic members would still make up less than 1%.
That does still not excuse it. As Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell emphasised, ‘one anti-Semite in our party is too many’. That is the view broadly shared by the Labour leadership and the bulk of the membership.
Thus, the notion that Labour is ‘sickeningly institutionally racist’, as claimed by Luciana Berger – the former Labour MP who quit the party in February 2019 – as well as the accusation from MP Margaret Hodge, that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is an ‘anti-Semitic racist’ seems slightly eccentric.
Even deputy leader Tom Watson, whose job it is to bolster the party, has made claims that hyperbolize the situation, stipulating on a number of occasions that he sometimes ‘no longer recognises’ the party.
Such imputations suggest anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is a new occurrence that is born out of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. But a dissection of the facts and figures illustrates otherwise.
When Ed Miliband was leader, there was a problem with the Jewish contingent of the party. ‘The Labour party’s support within the Jewish community is now on the brink of collapse’ is how the Telegraph described the situation in 2014, in an article titled ‘Labour’s first Jewish leader is losing the Jewish vote’. In the article, an influential Jewish Labour supporter proclaimed ‘It’s serious. There are now genuine questions being asked about whether we will be able to vote Labour’.
In this same period, the Jewish actress Maureen Lipman, a Labour supporter of 50 years, professed she could no longer vote for the party whilst Miliband was leader.
To compound matters, an article in the Spectator in 2015 titled ‘How Ed Miliband lost the Jewish vote’ alluded to how at a time when anti-Semitic attacks were increasing domestically, the Labour leadership’s ‘four month silence’ had left Jews feeling miffed and alienated. ‘It was the hardest thing for British Jews to bear, and it made many of them confused and angry’ was how a community activist described the plight.
The same article expresses how many Jewish activists at the time believed the party under Miliband had ‘written the Jewish community off electorally’.
Therefore, the notion that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is synonymous with the leadership of Corbyn is distorted. Rather, Corbyn inherited a party that had an anti-Semitism problem that had left a portion of Jews disillusioned.
In fact, Labour under Corbyn have taken actions to expunge anti-Semitism and all forms of racism in the party. In 2016, Corbyn ordered then shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti to conduct an investigation into anti-Semitism in the party in order to get a greater comprehension of the scale of the matter. She concluded the party was ‘not overrun’ by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism but made a number of recommendations to confront what it found was clear evidence of ‘ignorant attitudes’ among some party members.
When complaints were issued about members with racist tendencies, they were dealt with immediately. In February 2019 the party expelled 12 members and suspended 96 after the party received 673 accusations of racism. Evidently, it is a problem that exists in the party, on a minute scale, but is being addressed.
The same cannot be said about Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Whereas anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is limited to a small section of its members, recent polls exhibit that a staggering 60% of Conservative members think Islam is generally a threat to Western civilisation.
The poll conducted by YouGov revealed just how deep-seated injurious Islamophobic tendencies are in the Conservative Party. 40% of members wanted a limit on the number of people of Islamic faith entering the country. Only 17% agreed that Islam is compatible with Western civilisation and 43% would prefer not to have the country lead by a Muslim.
The figures illustrate that senior Tory peer Baroness Warsi’s sentiments that the Conservative Party is ‘institutionally racist’ and it has a ‘deep-rooted problem’ hold significant weight.
It is a damning indictment of the scale of racism in the ruling party. That is what makes the silence on the issue from much of the politicians and mainstream media bizarre. Whereas Labour are adopting necessary measures, the Conservatives are not even willing to admit they have a problem, let alone addressing it, and yet they are getting away with it.
Indeed, when the all-parliamentary group on British Muslims proposed the Conservative Party embrace the definition of Islamophobia which was produced after 6 months of consultation, they refused to adopt it.
Additionally, when the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK’s largest and most diverse national umbrella organisation, wrote to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Britain’s equality watchdog, demanding a formal inquiry into the accusations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, it did not gather momentum and was overlooked.
In fact, even when more than a dozen Conservative councillors were suspended for posting Islamophobic or racist content online, their memberships were swiftly quietly reinstated.
This illustrates a total disdain for a problem that is so brazen yet so distressing.
What is more alarming is the lack of attention this flagrant form of racism receives. When YouGov polls reveal that Labour’s approval rating has crashed and they sit fourth in the polls, the coverage is unprecedented. When a YouGov poll shows astounding levels of racism in the Conservative Party, the silence is deafening.
Even when Corbyn challenged Prime Minister Theresa May in her final Prime Ministers Questions session about Islamophobia, prominent journalists used it as a barometer of how low the two parties will stoop to smear one another.
Corbyn’s past is often referenced when anti-Semitic accusations are hurled at him. But if past tendencies are used to determine racism, Boris Johnson should be vilified extensively. In 2006 he penned an essay arguing Islam would cause the Muslim world to ‘be literally centuries behind the West’. Any hope that the No.10 frontrunner had realised how pernicious his rhetoric is quickly vanished when he wrote an article in 2018 that Muslim women who wore the burka looked like ‘letterboxes’.
Unsurprisingly, Boris Johnson and the rest of the Conservative Party have been able to get away with explicit racism, no matter how damaging. As a result, Islamophobic tendencies are being normalised in society.
New research suggests the public view Muslims overwhelmingly more negatively than any other religious group, with 18% of people having an extremely negative view of Muslims as Islamophobia goes mainstream. This is a direct consequence of the double-standard when it comes to decrying racism.
But this is a dangerous line to peddle. When a certain type of racism is unequivocally condemned yet other instances are neglected and thus normalised, a climate of hostility manifests. It is prevalent in the United States, where anti-Muslim sentiments are rife, which is why people can openly chant ‘send her back’ about a Muslim congresswoman. Exceedingly, with Boris Johnson set to become Prime Minister, Britain could well be heading in the same direction, unless all forms of racism are equally denounced.