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 5 May).
The claim is made by Unite, 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 Equalities 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.
“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,” said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.
“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.
Culture of division
“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,” he added.
“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 Equalities and Human Rights Commission should look very closely at the conduct of the Conservative party and its repeated indulgence of fear-based politics.”
Damaging our country
“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,” McCluskey said.
Unite officer for equalities Harish Patel added that “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,” he said.
“The Labour movement has fought for years to tackle racism, with little or no help whatsoever from the Tories. 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,” said Patel.
Several incidents are detailed in the report, among them a column written for the Daily Telegraph by the outgoing London Mayor, Boris Johnson. The then MP for Henley described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
No disciplinary action was taken by the Conservative Party.
In February 2009, the 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 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.
Bad moral attitudes
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 January 27, 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.
A copy of the full document can be found here.