LONDON — Islamophobia is now “very widespread” in the Conservative party but is being deliberately ignored at the highest levels for electoral reasons, the former Co-chair of the party has told Business Insider.

Baroness Warsi, who served as Minister without Portfolio in David Cameron’s coalition Cabinet, told BI that the “poison” of Islamophobia had now affected all levels of the party.

“It’s very widespread [in the Conservative party]. It exists right from the grassroots, all the way up to the top,” she said.

“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.”

Warsi spoke to BI in the wake of a series of stories about Conservative politicians making and sharing Islamophobic messages on social media.

These have included a Conservative MP accused of sharing Islamophobic messages on social media, a Conservative councillor sharing a post about “Muslim parasites”and a Conservative candidate suggesting people hang bacon from their door handlesto protect their homes from terrorists.

The party has suspended several people from the party following the allegations and insists that it takes all such incidents seriously.

However, Warsi said that the Conservative leadership were tolerating continued Islamophobia in the party 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. You can get any with it”.

‘The politics of fear’

sadiq khan leafletConservative Party

Warsi, who has written the book “The Enemy Within” about the history of Muslims in Britain and the prejudice they face, said her party had cynically used 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 has been a classic case of ‘we’re not racist — we like brown people but we like these kind of brown people as opposed to these kind of brown people.

“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 example of the 2016 London mayoral election, where the party was condemned for targeting Hindu voters with leaflets suggesting that the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, who is 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 told BI.

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.”

If you run toxic campaigns then you eventually poison the nation.

She said the party, under the campaign advice of former campaign manager Lynton Crosby, had deliberately sought to trash Muslim people.

“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 warned that such “toxic” campaigns risked poisoning political discourse.

“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.”

The ‘enemy at the table’

baroness warsiGetty

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?'”

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’.”

When Warsi became a minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, one of her aides was taken aside by an official working for the Conservative party and told to “keep an eye” on her due to unspecified concerns the party had about her.

She jokes that she was off treated by the party as a “sleeper cell”.

“I didn’t hide my views, I didn’t hide what I was or what I thought. It was all on the record. If anything the reason my political journey was so difficult was that I didn’t play the game. I didn’t smile sweetly and act like a sleeper cell.”

Michael Gove ‘radicalised’ David Cameron

Michael Gove David CameronGetty

She said the “Ukipification” of the party’s attitude towards Muslims had been triggered in large part by the current Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

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 tells me.

“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.”

Frightened to speak out

Member of House of Lords in Britain, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi speaks during the World Islamic Banking Conference in Manama, December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed Member of House of Lords in Britain, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi speaks during the World Islamic Banking Conference in Manama Thomson Reuters

The Conservative party has so far resisted calls for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the party. Warsi says the party is “in denial” about the problem with those affected frightened to speak out.

“There was a radio phone-in this morning [on the issue] and the number of people who came on and I recognised their voices and they said their name was Raj or Dave, but they wouldn’t say their real names, and I actually recognised two of the people from the party.

“And one of them was asked why they don’t reveal their name and they said ‘because I would be finished because they’re so far down the food chain we would be finished.”

She added: “Isn’t it outrageous that people feel they can’t even own these concerns?

A Conservative party spokesman told BI: “Our Party takes all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and has a clear and fully transparent process to investigate complaints made to it under the party’s code of conduct,”

“When cases have been reported centrally the Conservative Party has consistently acted decisively, suspending or expelling those involved and launching an immediate investigation. In addition, the swift action we take on not just anti-Muslim discrimination, but discrimination of any kind is testament to the seriousness with which we take such issues.”