When he Chooses to, Sunak is Happy to Match Braverman in the Hate Speech Stakes
Asked about ‘grooming gangs’, he ignored the evidence and slapped the blame on a single ethnic minority – a revealing moment, writes Brian Cathcart
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When the Home Secretary speaks of an “invasion” on the Channel coast, it may be tempting to imagine she is more extreme in her views than the Prime Minister – that she is a ‘hard case’ foisted on him by the far-right of their party.
Would Rishi Sunak incite hatred in such a flagrant fashion? Would he blow the racist dog whistle quite so loud?
Though his supporters might like us to believe he would not, the evidence suggests that, when he chooses to, the Prime Minister engages in hate speech every bit as dangerous as Suella Braverman’s.
Last August, in his first campaign for the Conservative leadership, he gave an interview to GB News in which he was asked about ‘grooming gangs’ by Tory backbencher Philip Davies.
Across the right-wing media, in overtly racist circles (think ‘Tommy Robinson’) and also in much of the modern Conservative Party, ‘grooming gangs’ is shorthand for a belief that Muslim men, and particularly Pakistani Muslim men, have an in-built propensity to get together and rape white girls.
There is no credible evidence that such a propensity exists. The best authority we have on the subject, a substantial 2020 Home Office study entitled ‘Group-Based Child Sexual Exploitation’, concluded that “it is likely that no one community or culture is uniquely predisposed to offending”.
It follows that any responsible politician, asked to discuss ‘grooming gangs’, would take some care over their response and try to avoid demonising the whole of the UK’s million-strong Pakistani minority without justification. But here is what Sunak told GB News:
“I have two young girls who are nine and 11 and I think, for too long, we have just not focused on this issue, Philip. It’s a horrific crime – a horrific crime – that is affecting not just actually girls in these places [Davies had mentioned Rotherham, Telford and Bradford]. It’s far more pervasive across the country than actually we all realise.
“And we all know the reason that people don’t focus on it. It’s because of political correctness and they’re scared of calling out the fact that there’s a particular group of people who are perpetuating these crimes and I think that’s wrong. I think that’s wrong. And I want to change that as prime minister.”
Those 116 words tell us a great deal about Rishi Sunak.
Let’s focus on the most inflammatory part – “there’s a particular group of people who are perpetuating these crimes”. He may not have used the words ‘Pakistani Muslim men’ but that is unquestionably what he meant.
That “particular group” has been the target of the ‘grooming gangs’ saga ever since it was launched by The Times newspaper in 2011 with front-page headlines including the words ‘most convicted offenders [are] of Pakistani heritage’. To repeat: this idea was found to be unsupported by the evidence in a lengthy, formal Government report issued at a time when Sunak was in the Cabinet as Chancellor.
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Yet, in this interview he stated as a “fact” – and as part of what “we all know” – that this “particular group of people” were “perpetuating” (he presumably meant ‘perpetrating’) crimes which, he stated without justification, were “far more pervasive across the country than actually we all realise”.
To me, this is hate speech – because what Sunak said was likely to encourage hatred and fear of Muslim Pakistanis. The man who is now Prime Minister endorsed the idea that they are people with a tendency to rape white girls and he did so without offering any qualification and without even a nod to the dominant contrary view held by authoritative scholars, practitioners and government experts.
And it is not “political correctness” to challenge such speech: the danger it poses is real. Just how real was shown by the fate of Mushin Ahmed, kicked to death in a Rotherham street in 2015 by racists who called him a ‘groomer’. Aged 81 and of Yemeni background, Ahmed was innocent of any crime.
When Sunak made those comments, he was willing to compromise the safety and well-being of a million-strong ethnic minority because he believed that would help him become prime minister. That is the sort of person he is.
Brian Cathcart is the author of ‘The Case of Stephen Lawrence’ (1999)