Wakefield Conservative group leader responds to report on Islamophobia within national Tory Party

The leader of Wakefield's Conservative group has suggested sweeping reforms are necessary to rid politics of racism.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 4:31 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th May 2021, 4:32 pm
Coun Ahmed has been Tory group leader in Wakefield since 2014.

Councillor Nadeem Ahmed said all three main parties "have got a problem with race" at a national level.

Coun Ahmed, a practising Muslim, was speaking after a report on Islamophobia within the wider Conservative Party was published earlier this week.

The report, written by former human rights commissioner Professor Sarwan Singh, said anti-Muslim sentiment "remains a problem" within the party, but found no evidence of institutional racism.

The report said there was evidence of anti-Muslim sentiment within local associations but that there was no proof of institutional racism within the party.

In 2018, Coun Ahmed said he felt there was no need for an inquiry into the issue, but a year later indicated he'd re-evaluated his view after speaking to victims and party grandee Dewsbury's Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

Speaking on Wednesday, Coun Ahmed said: "Whether it’s the Conservatives, Labour or the Lib Dems, I think all three main parties have got a problem with race.

"Just because I’m Conservative group leader in Wakefield, or Shabir Pandor is the leader of Kirklees Council, doesn’t mean that Islamophobia doesn’t still exist.

"I think there needs to be a reform of politics in general from that point of view."

Coun Ahmed said he was against so-called "positive discrimination", suggesting that the concept of it is a contradiction, but that more needed to be done to diversify public bodies.

Among the areas covered by the report was Boris Johnson's 2018 Daily Telegraph column, in which he remarked burqa-wearing Muslim women looked like "letterboxes" and "bank-robbers".

The report suggested that that comment gave "the impression to many that the party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities". The Prime Minister told the inquiry he "apologised for any offence caused".

The former chair of the Wakefield Conservative Party, David Herdson, was scathing of that response, however.

Mr Herdson, who left the party in 2019 after Mr Johnson became Prime Minister, tweeted: "Johnson's non-apology here can only be because he's not really sorry for what he said but doesn't want to defend it because - the 'bank-robber' reference in particular - isn't really defensible."

Coun Ahmed said he had not experienced discrimination within the Conservative Party itself, but that he would "not shy away" from addressing any examples of it.

"If I saw it or heard of it, then as group leader I would address it straight away," he insisted.

Local Democracy Reporting Service