The “poison” of Islamophobia is “very widespread” in the Conservative Party and is being ignored by those at the very top, Baroness Warsi has dramatically claimed.
The former co-chair of the party, who served as a minister under David Cameron, said anti-Muslim prejudice is pervading at all levels and is overlooked by the leadership.
In the interview with Business Insider, Warsi also hit out at Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s “extreme views” on Muslims, which she claimed had a heavy influence on Cameron’s outlook. She also branded the actions of former campaign chief Sir Lynton Crosby “toxic”.
It comes as the Muslim Council of Britain demand an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory party, following a slew of politicians making and sharing deeply offensive posts on social media.
“It’s very widespread [in the Conservative party]. It exists right from the grassroots, all the way up to the top,” Warsi told Business Insider.
“I don’t think it’s something that Theresa is a part of, but I do believe it is something the leadership feels can be easily ignored.”
But while the party insists such incidents are being taken seriously, Warsi said Islamophobia is tolerated by those at the top as “they don’t think it is going to damage them because that community doesn’t vote for them in any great numbers”.
She added: “I think that there is a general sense in the country that Muslims are fair game and it is not the kind of community where you can treat really badly and have many consequences.”
Warsi also claimed her party had relied on the “politics of fear” about Muslims to win over the votes of other minority groups.
“It has been a classic case of ’we’re not racist — we like brown people but we like this kind of brown people as opposed to this kind of brown people,” she said.
“It’s saying ‘these are the acceptable brown people and those are the unacceptable brown people’ and I think that is really dangerous.”
She cited the last London mayoral election in 2016, when the party was condemned for targeting Hindu voters with leaflets suggesting Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, was attempting to take away their jewellery.
“We specifically went out for Hindu voters saying Sadiq’s after your jewellery and I love Modi and by the way, Sadiq is an extremist. It was really amateur dog-whistle politics,” Warsi said.
She said the campaign had caused lasting damage to the party’s relations with the Muslim community.
“I just feel that somebody in campaign took a decision that if we throw enough dirt at him tied to the fact that he’s a Muslim then people will say this man can’t be trusted and he won’t vote for him. Terrible, terrible campaign which I think still has an effect.
“People always go back to it. People who were Conservative candidates and members couldn’t bring themselves to vote for us.”
The former foreign affairs minister also accused Crosby of deliberately targeting Muslims.
“There is a sense of only caring about what wins us the next election and if trashing the Muslim community wins us the next election then who cares,” she said.
She called his campaigning tactics “toxic” for public debate.
“If you campaign without a conscience then you’re going to run toxic campaigns,” she said.
“And if you run toxic campaigns then you eventually poison the nation.”
Warsi, who served in several ministerial roles under Cameron, said she had been made to feel, in the words of commentator Douglas Murray, like “the enemy at the table”.
“Things would be held back and I wouldn’t be informed about things,” she said.
“There was always a sense that there were people in the party who questioned ‘where do her loyalties lie?’”
She said that even her routine actions were often under scrutiny.
“I remember being told once in Cabinet ‘colleagues are uncomfortable with the amount of notes you’re taking around the cabinet table. You seem to take a lot more notes than anybody else’.”
Gove, who wrote the book Celcius 7/7 about Islamic terrorism, was a close ally of Cameron and Warsi believes his “extreme views” caused the former prime minister to shift the government’s attitudes towards Muslims.
“I sometimes joke that Michael Gove radicalised David Cameron,” Warsi said.
“In private conversations [I know that David] had some concerns about some of the extreme views that Michael had but over time [Gove] influenced a lot of his views.”
The Tories have so far ignored the Muslim Council of Britain’s demand for a probe, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid claiming the body “does not represent” most Muslims.
Warsi added the party is “in denial” about the problem.
The Conservative party is yet to comment on the interview.