Is the Tory party racist? The question that got me sued

The only time in 15 years of journalism that an article I'd written has ever been successfully challenged legally was when, in 2009, Daniel Hannan sued the New Statesman over a response I wrote to a Telegraph article in which Hannan wrote: 'Barack Obama has an exotic background and it would be odd if some people weren't unsettled by it.' He went on: '[Obama seems to] have family on every continent...'[I]t could hardly fail to leave a chunk of people feeling that Obama wasn't exactly a regular guy.'

In my article, which was 'Fisked' by Iain Dale (who would later publish a book by Mehdi Hasan and me), and taken down from the internet by the New Statesman, I had backed claims, reported in the Mirror and elsewhere, that Hannan's blog was racist, and accused the party of institutional racism.

It was not an uplifting affair, so imagine my amusement and, yes, chagrin when, seven years later, Hannan's friend and Brexit ally Boris Johnson was very widely accused of racism and 'dog whistle' politics, including in a report in the Daily Mail, when, in a highly controversial column for The Sun, he referred to Obama and the 'part-Kenyan president's ancestral dislike of the British empire'.

That's life, I guess. But the whole business still makes me, wrongly, perhaps, a little cautious about wading into Tory racism rows, of which there are many.

The latest is over alleged Islamophobia in the Conservative party, with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), backed by the Tory peer and (Muslim) former party chair Baroness Warsi, calling for an independent inquiry into the tendency.

In a letter to the current party chair, Brandon Lewis, the group said there were 'more than weekly incidents' of Islamophobia within the party.


Warsi told BBC News the party had 'buried its head in the sand' over allegations of Islamophobia, and in the open letter, the MCB criticises the party for failing to take action against the Tory MP Bob Blackman, who was forced to apologise after sharing a link from an anti-Muslim US website in March, and who previously faced criticism for retweeting an anti-Muslim post by Tommy Robinson and hosting the controversial Hindu nationalist Tapan Ghosh in parliament.

The MCB letter lists a number of alleged incidents that the group says took place in April and at the beginning of May. The list includes David Boston, a Tory candidate who was suspended days before local elections for posting a photo of bacon hanging from a door handle, with the caption: 'Protect your house from terrorists.'

Now, plenty of Muslims are Tory voters, and even Tory politicians, including Warsi herself, and Sajid Javid, who Theresa May – clearly no Islamophobe – admirably promoted to the role of home secretary recently.

And, to be fair, if the party is in some way institutionally Islamophobic, it may simply be reflecting the British public, a majority of which was shown in a Pew survey this week to back a ban on burkas.

Many Christians are apparently no better, with the same Pew survey showing that Christians in Europe – and most Anglicans remain Tory voters, with the Church of England still justifiably called 'the Tory party at prayer' – are more likely to express anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish views than religious 'nones'.

Funnily enough, it was Tory (yes, Tory) antisemitism that was my main focus as a journalist back in late 2009, when Hannan successfully challenged my article. I appeared on the BBC's Daily Politics with Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn to discuss the matter, but that's for another day.

In the meantime it is simply worth remembering that race rows are not confined to one party. Instead both Labour and the Tories remain dogged by accusations of racism.

It is therefore fair simply to note the latest development, and conclude that independent inquiries into both the main parties would be most welcome. Surely no-one can sue for that, can they?