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I want to explain briefly why tackling ‘Islamophobia’ is vital, both for our country, and for the Conservative Party in particular.

The word ‘Islamophobia’ is itself contested. I normally avoid using it. Here, I use it purely as an abbreviation for anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice. Neither of those is committed simply by criticising the religion of Islam. But criticising Islam is sometimes disguised Islamophobia, just as criticising Israel can be disguised anti-Semitism.

Muslims matter for three main reasons. One and a half billion Muslims are the world’s second largest religious group with over 50 Muslim majority countries, and very large Muslim minorities in countries such as India and Nigeria. In the UK, at 5%, Muslims are also the second largest religious group, and with the decline of Christian religious practice, Muslims represent a much higher proportion of active religious practitioners. Finally, Muslims are currently the group facing the most widespread hostility, measured by critical media coverage, of any minority group and are therefore a litmus test for our society’s treatment of all minorities.

Suffering Islamophobia directly harms the victim. When discrimination stops you getting jobs that you are qualified for, your current and future earnings and quality of life suffer. Experiencing discrimination and hatred can result in mental and physical illness, with associated costs to the Exchequer, and can lead to alienation, petty criminal activity and even to radicalisation. Our country also suffers from the waste of talent, when we need every highly skilled person to succeed.

Rabbi Lord Sacks has written: “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.” The same is true of Muslims. A society that fails to tackle hatred directed at them will soon find itself with hatred being directed at other groups; once one group is marginalised, other candidates for hatred are soon found. Furthermore, Britons growing up today will have to function in a diverse world, where most people are very different from the inhabitants of 1950’s Britain that so many haters of Muslims hark back to. They will be unable to do business with such foreigners if they have grown up hating people who are different.

Since Islamophobia harms Britain, that is enough reason for the Conservative Party to make it a priority. However, self-interest is the other reason. The 2011 census showed 80 constituencies where Muslims were more than 10% of the population. By now, the figures will be higher. Historically, Muslims have been concentrated in inner cities, but with growing numbers and wealth many are moving out into the suburbs. Muslims will not vote for a party they see as tolerating Islamophobia; nor will many young non-Muslim, metropolitan liberals who value the diverse multi-ethnic, multi-religious society that Britain is today.

Recent general elections have shown both the benefits of getting it right, and what can go wrong. In the 2010 general election, only about 15% of British Muslims voted Conservative. In the 2015 general election, thanks to David Cameron’s detoxification of the Conservative Party plus hard work by many including the Conservative Muslim Forum, this had risen to 25%. That increase will have accounted for some of the seats that we won that year to get our absolute majority in Parliament. In 2017, while our national vote share rose, our Muslim and other minorities vote share fell, contributing to our losses.

To illustrate the effects of demographic change as Muslims and other ethnic minorities move out from inner cities, look at Ilford North, a constituency which is experiencing significant inflows of minorities from East London. From 1945 to 2015, the Conservative Party held the seat for 53 of those years, losing it only in very strong years for Labour such as 1945, 1997, and also in October 1974. However, in 2015, despite the Conservative Party performing strongly around the country, we lost the seat, and Labour increased its majority in 2017.

Ilford North could be our Party’s future. If we fail to convincingly address Islamophobia within our own ranks, let alone Islamophobia in wider society, we will find ourselves fighting future elections while hobbled and handicapped.

Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Staying Faithful?. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.