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29th November 2021

They all look the same to me: Racism in the Tory Party

Alfie Cumberworth questions whether the ignorant racism of one conservative party MP is telling of the hostility and discriminatory attitudes of the governing party more generally.
They all look the same to me: Racism in the Tory Party
Racism in the tory party

Recently I was shocked by a headline which stated that Conservative Party MP James Grey had mistakenly mixed-up Education Secretary, Nadim Zahawi, with Health Secretary, Sajid Javid. 

Some could naively suggest that this was a simple mistake; people mix people up all the time of course. But what led me to think that this was (what I have now found to be) one of many forms of Tory racism, would be Grey’s ill-judged attempt to justify his bigoted actions. 

When speaking to the MailOnline, he was quick to point out that he had apologized to the Education Secretary soon after. However, he followed his apology with the justification “They all look the same to me”. This was before making it clear that “they are two very good friends of mine”, as if a claimed friendship is something which could annul his backward thinking. 

Just in that one interview James Grey used two tiresome techniques to prove that he’s not a racist that have been debunked time and time again – almost to the point that one could think these quotes a parody. The idea that they look the same and that it is okay because they’re friends to me highlights a glaring issue with the party that governs this country. The Conservative Party, and what they stand for, are out of touch with the progressive attitudes this country needs. 

My assumptions are not born out of a natural distaste for the Tories. Rather, they come from a repeated and prolonged portrayal that they themselves perpetuate. Their obsession to appear as ‘anti-woke’ as possible leads them to excuse horrendous acts of blatant bias and bigotry that runs through all ranks within the Conservatives, both in local politics and in national government. 

Take for example Rosemary Carroll, a Conservative councillor in Pendle, who in 2017 compared Asian benefit claimants to dogs, and continued with a description too vulgar to publish in this paper. Or perhaps we should look at everyone’s favourite wheat field runner Theresa May who, as part of her failed legacy as Prime Minister, successfully resided over years of what she herself described as a “hostile environment policy” for immigrants to the UK. 

May’s ‘Go Home’ initiative in 2013 was one of many plans the Home Office instigated to create an atmosphere of bitter belligerence towards immigrants. This particular one involved vans crawling the streets of six London boroughs with “Go home or face arrest” sloganeered across the side. This initiative was eventually disbanded after the trial, even the government recognized that what it was doing was deeply disgusting. 

I’m sure that no one has forgotten the abhorrent quotes our current Prime Minister has said in the past, many of which he still refuses to apologize for. Despite the real-world impacts his foul words have on people he vulgarly described as “letterboxes”, for one of many examples. 

On that note, I feel there is something that is often overlooked. Regarding Johnson’s letterbox stunt of dog whistle racism, he continues on with that particular statement by stating “I should feel fully entitled to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly”. 

I believe this ‘entitlement’ speaks to a wider theme within the Conservative party, which underpins the reason why they allow racism to infect our politics. The Conservatives are a party of privilege and entitlement, so it’s no surprise that they fundamentally oppose the idea of institutionalized racism in the UK. 

Indeed, I feel it can be said that the Tories feel they are not doing anything wrong by holding these values and instilling this belief system in policy and society. Why would they? When they themselves never see the consequences of institutionalized racism. Nothing proves this more than the 2021 UK Race Report, a document cobbled together by the government after protests broke out following the death of George Floyd. 

The government had the opportunity to discuss how the country could tackle racism and make the UK a much more equitable state for everyone. However, they disappointingly yet unsurprisingly chose to continue a discourse of debating its existence. 

The report unconvincingly attempts to perpetuate a narrative that recognizing colour in discussions about race is merely an attempt to “insist on accelerating our differences”. Likewise, it suggests that it isn’t helpful to “explain all minority disadvantages through the prism of white discrimination”. This attack on the idea of being anti-racist, and falling back on the concept of not seeing colour, is what leads this shambolic report to find the conclusions that it does.

 It’s no surprise then that the report blames the higher rates of BAME Covid deaths on issues such as housing and occupation, rather than on systematic racism. The Conservatives refuse to acknowledge the existence of this inherent discrimination in the UK, thus allowing themselves to avoid entertaining the idea that these issues are part of the wider discussion around institutionalized racism. It is no wonder then that they fail to question why certain groups within society were in occupations and housing situations that led to their untimely deaths during the covid pandemic. 

Recently, Tory MP Jonathan Gullis was caught on tape summing up a sentiment I believe resonates with the party as a whole. He stated that white privilege is an “extremist term“, and that “woke-left” lectures and teachers must stop pushing their ideology on them or face being sacked from their jobs. This, I believe, is the root cause of the issue. 

The Conservatives have devised a narrative within their party that to tackle institutionalized racism – or even to acknowledge its existence –  within society has become a partisan and ideological matter.  When in fact, dismantling it should be a cause that unites and spans all sectors of society, rather than be framed as a party-line issue. 

This brings me full circle back to Tory MP James Grey. By stating “the notion that this is some sort of racist remark is ridiculous; they are two very good friends of mine”, Grey reinforces the disbelief of the severity of racism. A belief I consider to have plagued the Tories as a whole. 

The reason this incident has made Grey squirm, and therefore justify his actions in the shallowest of ways, is because it is now becoming a more mainstream concept to call out this sort of passive racism. A concept that frankly should have been mainstream for decades by this point. The ideology behind the Conservatives is to conserve the status quo. They don’t like their status quo to be challenged, yet this is exactly what needs to be done.

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