Back in November last year, Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis rubbished advocacy group Hope Not Hate’s claims that he was failing to deal with Islamophobia in the party, tweeting “We deal with complaints, none outstanding”.
But in spite of the Great Yarmouth MP’s pointed denial and assertion of the party’s “zero-tolerance approach to any form of discrimination, intimidating behaviour or abuse”, there is considerable evidence to show that Lewis did in fact know about – and consequently failed to respond to – multiple outstanding complaints of abuse. Much of this was collated in a Twitter thread on 17 March that has been retweeted 2,600 times.
Here is a timeline of Lewis’ failings.
5 May 2018
Leo Ciccarone, the now ousted Chairman of Portsmouth South CCP writes to Lewis, telling him to chase up “a dozen outstanding racism complaints”. Among those is an alleged incidient in which a senior party officer was accused of referring to Prab Ghosh, a Conservative council candidate of Indian origin as “Oran”, allegedly a shortening of “orangutan”. Lewis, however, does not reply.
Nor does he reply to 67-year-old Tory activist Massoud Esmaili, who writes to Lewis outlining a number of incidents of racism he says he has faced over the course of his ten years with the party. Esmaili, who came to the UK from Iran 40 years ago, explains how on one occasion a councillor called him a “bloody foreigner” and told him to “go back to your own country”. For him prejudice in the party has reached its peak: “It is as if the party has gone back to the 40s or 50s,” he says. “People…feel able to be as racist as they wish now”.
30 September 2018
Ajay Jagota Chairman of South Shields CCP tells Lewis in person and via email about racial abuse he has faced, alleging that a Tory councillor made an anti-Muslim remark towards him.
According to Jagota, neither Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) or Lewis respond to his numerous emails enquiring about the status of his complaint. As a result, on 16 January, Jagota writes to Lewis to tender his resignation as chairman of South Shields conservative association, citing “the incident” as his “sole reason” for doing so. In the letter, Jagota explains that his initial beliefs about what the Conservative party stands for “were at complete odds with my experience”.
Months later, on 15 February 2019, Tory official David Beckingham issues a private apology to Jagota, writing: “I was sorry to read of your concerns, and that you had not received a response regarding your complaint. I have spoken to Conservative Campaign Headquarters who have assured me that your complaint is being investigated and that you will receive an update shortly.”
Despite Beckingham’s letter, Jagota says he has still never received a response from either Lewis or the complaints team.
30 August 2018
CCHQ officials have a meeting with Muslim Conservative and aspiring councillor Amir Sadjady who feels he has been a victim of racial discrimination in his local party, concluding that the party was “prejudiced against Islam”. Sadjady alleges that despite being likely to win a seat in the west London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham he was passed over in favour of a white candidate, saying “They either ignore you, or don’t select you, or they bully you out. There is definitely Islamophobia there.”
He tells CCHQ how he was repeatedly told to keep quiet about his concerns, at one point being told by Conservative London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, to “suck it up” so that he would have a chance of moving up the party ranks. Bailey however, denies using the phrase.
4 October 2018
A Conservative official writes to Lewis to inform him about Islamophobic Facebook posts by party members in the “Jacob Rees Mogg Support Group”, asking him to investigate and ensure that posts “are reviewed and anyone who is a member of ours have their membership removed if they have expressed racist or anti-Islam rhetoric”.
On 2 November, the official sends a follow-up email to the complaints team asking if her request has been acted on. “Morning, Has the Facebook page been looked at yet, would just like to know if any are members and if any action is being taken?” the official wrote.
No action is taken by the CCHQ until months later on 5 March 2019, when Buzzfeed News approached the party with screenshots of the posts. It was only then that the party suspended 14 members identified as having posted offensive content.
6 November 2018
Conservative MP Helen Goodman writes to Lewis about Colin Raine, a then party member who she says organised a protest with various far-right groups outside her office. “My concern is not that people were exercising their right to protest in public: it is that a Conservative was lining up with the racist far-right, especially given that I receive representations from ethnic minority constituents who say they no longer feel safe,” Goodman explains.
Last year, Raine posted Islamophobic rants on Facebook about “aggressive muzzies” who he claimed were praying in public to “provoke a reaction”. He also took to the social media site to brag about meeting Theresa May back in August 2017.
Despite Goodman’s concerns, Lewis took no action against Raine and instead chose to wait for his membership to expire.
19 March 2019
Lewis responds to Hope Not Hate’s claims of un-dealt with complaints saying:
“Anti-Muslim discrimination undermines society from within and there is absolutely no place for it in this country or in the Conservative Party.
“We take swift action when complaints are made to Conservative Party headquarters (CCHQ), immediately referring them for investigation.
“That was the case in November 2018, and continues to be the case today.”
It remains to be seen whether Lewis will put his words into action, though his track history suggests otherwise.