Posted on April 14, 2023

Senior Conservatives Hit Out at Suella Braverman’s ‘Racist Rhetoric’

Aletha Adu et al., The Guardian, April 13, 2023

More senior Conservatives have hit out at Suella Braverman’s “racist rhetoric”, accusing her of undermining the party for the sake of her own leadership ambitions.

Pressure was mounting on Rishi Sunak on Thursday to intervene to protect the party’s reputation after the home secretary stoked renewed anger by criticising police for confiscating a set of racist dolls displayed in an Essex pub.

Tory MPs, peers and activists have accused Braverman of inflaming racial tensions on a number of occasions over the past few months, saying they are worried that she is now at risk of repelling the kinds of swing voters the party is desperate to retain.

A former senior minister from Boris Johnson’s government told the Guardian they believed Braverman was a “real racist bigot”.

The person said “the country is not as grotesque as she makes it out to be”, warning that the “Conservative reputation on discrimination has dropped to a new low” under her watch – “which also gives the country a bad name”.

They added: “Sunak needs to build upon foundations we already have – stop the culture wars and create change. But his inaction shows how insecure he is in his own ability.”

The criticism reflects widespread anger felt by many Tory MPs and peers about Braverman’s frequent use of racially charged language.

Earlier this month, the home secretary said grooming gangs were almost entirely made up of British Pakistani men, whom she said “hold cultural attitudes completely incompatible with British values”.

And last November there was an outcry after she said the small boats crossing the Channel amounted to an “invasion” of migrants.

Some MPs believe Braverman’s interventions are a deliberate attempt to appeal to Conservative party members in case the Tories lose the next election and hold another leadership contest.

“Suella’s comments pander to the unpleasant base instinct of a small section of the British population,” the former minister said.

“She’s not stupid, she believes she has a licence to say these things because she’s not white. But all her language does is exacerbate hatred.”

Another senior Tory said: “The politics of this leadership plan stink.”

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the defence select committee, said: “These comments – arguably designed to appeal to a specific political cohort – do not sit well with the new, pragmatic and cooperative approach which the prime minister is now injecting into Number 10 and is seeing us improve in the polls.”

On Thursday, the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi condemned Braverman’s comments, writing in the Guardian: “Whether this consistent use of racist rhetoric is strategy or incompetence, however, doesn’t matter. Both show she is not fit to hold high office.”

In recent days Braverman has once more been accused of racial insensitivity after a source close to her said she had criticised Essex police for confiscating a set of racist dolls that had been put on display in the White Hart Inn in Grays.

The source said she believed the police “should not be getting involved in this kind of nonsense”.

On Thursday it emerged that police are also investigating the pub’s landlord, Christopher Ryley, over online messages in which he apparently joked about Mississippi lynchings alongside an image of the racist dolls.

It is believed the investigation is focusing on establishing whether he intended to cause offence by displaying the dolls. One other possible line of inquiry is whether his posts flouted the 1988 Malicious Communication Act.

Earlier this week, Warsi told LBC: “I think the prime minister has to get a really strong message that this kind of rhetoric, whether it’s on small boats, whether it’s the stuff she was saying on the weekend which is not based on evidence, not nuanced, not kind of explanatory in any way, it has got to stop.

“And you know, again today, we’ve woken up to a story where she’s having a go at the police for removing golliwog dolls from a pub.”

Many senior Conservatives believe Braverman should have found out more about the couple before intervening in their case.

Sally-Ann Hart, one of the Tory MPs on the advisory board of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality (Carfe), said: “I was gobsmacked that people would put golliwogs up in a public space in this day and age.”

Asked specifically whether Braverman should have entered the debate, given the past views expressed by the pub owners, Hart said: “I think it might have been a kneejerk reaction, which is so easy to do when put on the spot.”

Meanwhile allies of Steve Baker, the minister for Northern Ireland who is a board member of Carfe, suggested he was also unhappy about Braverman’s recent remarks.

Albie Amankona, who cofounded the group said: “I think that something isn’t happening properly if a minister on a weekly basis is in the news for some kind of racial insensitivity.

“She should just focus on the important things in the Home Office, like reforming the police or trying to stop the boats rather than trying to get tied up in these culture war debates.”

Braverman initially ran to succeed Boris Johnson in the first of last year’s Tory leadership contests, but was eliminated in the second round of voting. After Liz Truss resigned as Johnson’s successor, Braverman threw her weight behind Sunak – which was seen as key to his success.

Her support for Sunak, as a linchpin of the Tory right, was seen as a key reason why Johnson chose not to challenge his old rival to try to return to No 10.

A poll carried out by YouGov on Tuesday found that nearly half of British voters believe it is not racist to sell or display a golly doll, compared with only 27% who think it is.

But attitudes are changing fast – six years ago, 63% thought it was not racist to sell or display a golly doll. And experts say the British public generally does not have the appetite for culture war issues which Braverman appears to show.

Sunder Katwala, the director of the British Future thinktank, said: “Braverman is so keen to enter any culture war debate going that she doesn’t seem to have stopped to ask basic questions like, ‘How racist is the golliwog display?’ and ‘Might he be an actual fascist?’

“The British culture war position is a subtler and more nuanced argument than the American or French one.

“Amplifying occasions where the left might be seen to have gone too far works well, but if your position is to pick any fight you can with the liberal left, that is not really where the Conservative party electorate is these days.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary has been clear that all despicable child abusers must be brought to justice.

“And she will not shy away from telling hard truths, particularly when it comes to the grooming of young women and girls in Britain’s towns who have been failed by authorities over decades.

“As the home secretary has said, the vast majority of British-Pakistanis are law-abiding, upstanding citizens, but independent reports were unequivocal that in towns like Rochdale, Rotherham and Telford, cultural sensitivities have meant thousands of young girls were abused under the noses of councils and police.

“That’s why we have announced a raft of measures, including a new police taskforce and mandatory reporting, to ensure this horrific scandal can never happen again, and bring members of grooming gangs to justice for the victims.”