To hold off Labour, the Tories are ready to play the Muslim card
It's approaching two years since the launch of the nastiest political campaign on which I have ever reported. This was Zac Goldsmith's battle to succeed Boris Johnson as London mayor. The Conservative Party under David Cameron played dirty, smearing Muslims in order to win votes and discredit the Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan.
Shameful though that was, I fear that Theresa May looks determined to put on a repeat performance this summer. This May the Conservative Party is facing make-or-break local elections in London.
The advance news has not been good for the Conservatives.
The Muslim card
According to YouGov, the party looks set to lose in Westminster and Wandsworth – councils which once seemed impregnable. Across the capital the Tories are said to be trailing Labour by 54 per cent to 28 per cent. This latest poll could hardly be more alarming. There is talk that a heavy defeat in London could lead to a leadership bid against May.
But once again, there are signs that in order to hold off Labour, the Tories are readying themselves to play the Muslim card. Last weekend the prime minister travelled to Harrow East to campaign alongside local MP Bob Blackman.
Blackman's record on Muslims is dark – so much so that I find it surprising that he is still allowed to be an MP. I will go through the contents of the charge sheet against him one by one.
There are signs that in order to hold off Labour, the Tories are readying themselves to play the Muslim card
First there was his conduct during last year's general election campaign. According to 2011 census figures, 13 per cent of Blackman's constituents are Muslims. Seven per cent are Jewish, and 28 per cent are Hindu.
But instead of courting the votes of every religious minority, Blackman sided with Hindu and Jewish voters while neglecting Muslims.
Indeed his Twitter feed shows that he made a number of well publicised visits to Hindu temples and a synagogue. Yet I can find no evidence that he went to a mosque.
No mosque visits
When I rang Blackman's parliamentary office to confirm this, his assistant could not immediately find an example of a visit to a mosque. But she said that he had been to so many places during the campaign that she could not confirm that he hadn't visited a mosque.
She also said she thought it was a "weird point" to raise.
Blackman describes himself as a "Chrinjew – a Christian with Jewish roots, and an honorary Hindu". Conspicuous in their absence from this moniker are Muslims. Not only that, but Blackman even challenges the number of Muslims in his constituency. When I asked him whether his self-description as a "Chrinjew" might offend the 10,000 Muslims in Harrow East, he claimed, "The figures are wrong. I don't have that many Muslims."
May travelled to Harrow last week in full knowledge that Blackman is an anti-Muslim bigot. This is deeply concerning
The next examples of Blackman's prejudice against Muslims came in October last year. First he hosted a despicable Hindu nationalist, Tapan Ghosh, at an event at the House of Commons.
Ghosh is a man who has called for the UN to control the birth rate of Muslims, praised the genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar, tweeted: "all Muslims are Jihadis" and met Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League (EDL) who left the organisation in October 2013.
Blackman defended his decision to invite Ghosh to Parliament by claiming that "he did not make anti-Islamic remarks at the event. I can assure you had he voiced some of these comments I would've challenged him".
I have looked at the tape. Ghosh calls for a Hindu defence force in India "to protect our civilisation" – by implication in my view a military force directed against the Muslim minority. At this Blackman said nothing.
A week later, Blackman himself retweeted a post by Tommy Robinson. When The Times picked up on this, Blackman said, "this was retweeted in error. I condemn the views of Tommy Robinson and the English Defence League".
But according to Miqdaad Versi, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain who monitors media coverage of Muslims, Blackman did not delete the tweet for at least three weeks.
Theresa May cannot claim ignorance of Blackman's history of slurs against Muslims. I can reveal that she has personally been warned about him by at least one senior Tory. I also happen to know that the previous Tory Party chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, was also warned about Blackman. (I cannot say whether the new chairman, Brandon Lewis, has been warned too.)
This means that the prime minister travelled to Harrow last week in full knowledge that Blackman is an anti-Muslim bigot. This is deeply concerning.
In response to a question put by MEE to the prime minister's office on why May decided to go campaigning in Harrow East alongside Bob Blackman, a Conservative Party spokesman said: "The prime minister was pleased to be in Harrow with Bob Blackman MP and a great team of local Conservatives who are campaigning hard to deliver a better Harrow for all local residents."
But Mr Blackman's behaviour suggests he is not interested in campaigning for all Harrow residents.
I find it particularly surprising that Rehman Chishti, himself a Muslim, has allowed this to happen. Chishti is Conservative vice chairman responsible for communities. Chishti shows strangely little interest in the Muslim community from which he has come.
One final thought.
In recent months the Tory party has made a great deal – and rightly so - of the anti-Semitism charges against Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. Let's just imagine that there had been a Labour MP who encouraged anti-Semites in the way Bob Blackman gives space to those who hate Muslims.
Let's imagine a Labour MP hosted an anti-Semite in the House of Commons in this way. It would be unacceptable. The offender would likely be suspended from the party, if not expelled. May would rightly condemn them.
But I am afraid her party is guilty of the same crime, only against Muslims rather than against Jews. That May herself is willing to walk side by side with Bob Blackman sends out a distressing message about the values of Theresa May's Conservative Party.
- Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech about her vision for Brexit, at Mansion House in London, Britain, on 2 March, 2018 (REUTERS)