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27 February 2024

The Lee Anderson debacle reveals a split in Tory strategy

The MP has doubled down on comments about Sadiq Khan and Islamists – yet Conservatives are reluctant to label him Islamophobic.

By Freddie Hayward

The debate over anti-Muslim hatred in the Conservative Party is deepening. Lee Anderson doubled down on his comments that Islamists controlled Sadiq Khan on GB News last night.

Anderson admitted that his words were “clumsy” but refused to apologise. Instead, he pretended he said something else: that Khan had lost control of the streets – which is completely different to saying Islamists control Khan.

Anderson’s refusal to get in line means this scandal is not going away. But the government is also making things worse for itself. Michael Tomlinson – the illegal migration minister who once said “lots of goals were scored” at a 1-1 football draw – refused six times on LBC this morning to specify why Anderson’s remarks were wrong. He malfunctioned. Nick Ferrari called the interview off. This was not an isolated incident.

The root of the problem seems to be that the government does not feel comfortable with the phrase “Islamophobia”, presumably over concerns it could be used to shut down criticism of Islam, not only hatred directed towards Muslims. But Conservatives also seem reluctant to use the more precise phrase “anti-Muslim bigotry” or “anti-Muslim hatred”. Instead of explaining the reason they don’t want to use the word “Islamophobia” while condemning the comments themselves, however, the exact reason why Anderson’s comments were wrong goes unaddressed. And the media questioning continues.

This all reflects a more fundamental split within the party. Anderson said something interesting in his GB News interview: he compared the rise of pro-Palestinian protests – which he erroneously conflated with Islamists – to the unions in the 1970s and 1980s. Not a fair comparison, sure. But that’s not the point. The point is that there are many in the Conservative Party who would like to fight the next election on the 1974-style question: “who governs Britain?” Parliament? Or the European Courts, the international organisations and the Islamists? No 10 wants to fight the election on the economy while keeping those in the party sympathetic to Anderson onside. Many in the party think it has not done enough of the latter – and if defeat comes, they will feel vindicated.

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[See also: The Tories have become the Conspiracy Party]

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