Why the elites are terrified of talking about radical Islam

The Lee Anderson affair confirms that everyone from the Tories to the wet left fears the passions of the public.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK

So now we know. If you’re from a working-class background in a Red Wall constituency and you think Islamism is a big problem, the Tories are not the party for you. That’s the takeaway, surely, from Lee Anderson’s flight from the Tories into the welcoming arms of Reform UK following the confected media stink over his brash comments about Sadiq Khan being too cosy with Islamists. The optics of this are awful. A former miner turned Tory MP pipes up about radical Islam and the eye-wateringly wealthy Rishi Sunak effectively kicks him out? Yikes.

This is the news that Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, has defected to Reform UK, the upstart right-wing party led by Richard Tice. It follows his suspension from the Conservative Party last month after he said Islamists have ‘got control’ of London and its mayor, Sadiq Khan. ‘Islamophobe!’, hollered the liberal media. Centrist arseholes and tedious podcasters obsessed over his ‘racist’ comments for days. That Anderson also said Keir Starmer is in the pocket of Islamist loons didn’t help his cause: he was branded a Muslim-basher whose very mention of the word ‘Islamist’ was likely to inflame the bovine bigotries of his fellow Red Wall meatheads.

You didn’t have to agree with Anderson’s comments to find the response to them chilling. My view is that it’s just wrong to say Sadiq is a marionette of religious hotheads. London’s preening, pint-sized overlord is a woke despot, not an Islamist one. He smuggles his intolerance under the Pride flag, not the Shahada flag, and damns as blasphemers less those who query the Koran than those who think men can’t become women or who don’t fancy stumping up £12 a day to drive their car in London. But it wasn’t the inaccuracy of Anderson’s ‘Islamist’ jibe that earned him the week-long wrath of media hysterics – it was the fact he said the word ‘Islamist’ at all.

‘Islamism’ is the great unutterable in 21st-century Britain. Representatives of the state have even flirted with erasing the i-word from public discourse – remember when counter-terrorist police considered ditching phrases like ‘Islamist terrorism’ and ‘jihadis’ and replacing them with ‘faith-claimed terrorism’ and ‘terrorists abusing religious motivations’? In the end, such brazen Orwellian meddling in everyday speech wasn’t necessary. Instead, as Anderson found out, an informal moratorium on open chatter about Islamism has been enforced by our fretful cultural elite, who wield the charge of ‘Islamophobe’ against anyone who asks too many questions or feels too many feelings about the scourge of radical Islam.

That was by far the most alarming thing about the Anderson scandal – not what he said but the performative pearl-clutching of an establishment that is creepily incapable of taking the Islamist threat seriously. You want us to lose sleep over a loudmouth’s swipes at Sadiq when there is an entire political class out there that can’t even bring itself to name the ideology that has caused the deaths of almost a hundred Brits over the past two decades? Yeah, not going to happen. With their noisy castigation of Anderson, the elites handily reminded us that their moral cowardice poses a far larger threat to the nation than one bloke’s pop at a mayor.

Yet rather than defending Anderson – or at least saying that while he might be wrong about Sadiq, he’s right to point to the problem of Islamism – the Tories suspended him. They caved to the middle-class mob. They surrendered to the frenzied Anderson-bashers. They gave them the scalp of this Midlander MP who makes Guardian readers break out in hives. That accent, that attitude, that cocky bristling against woke – few politicians rattle the new priestly ‘progressives’ as much as Anderson does. And the Tories know this. Yet rather than stand by him, perhaps after a slap on the wrist, they handed him over to the fuming chattering class.

It was a telling spectacle. Rishi Sunak acted more decisively over Anderson’s comments on Islamism than he has over Islamism itself. On that murderous ideology, he’s often as morally timorous as the wet left. Witness his Downing Street speech on extremism in which he made great play of naming the far right alongside radical Islam. Everyone knows these two ideologies can’t seriously be compared. Yes, both are bigoted and both have scumbags in their ranks. But radical Islam is the far more pressing threat. It is radical Islamists who’ve slaughtered scores: working people, gay men, women, kids. It is not ‘phobic’ to talk about this – it’s essential.

In treating Britain’s balding neo-fascists as commensurate with the Islamist surge, Sunak was signalling his loyalty to the bien pensant belief that it’s wrong, maybe even dangerous, to single out Islamism for concern. He was taking the knee, subtly, to the media’s conformist conviction that passions must always be tempered on the issue of extremism. He was colluding with the liberal media’s determination to drag the public gaze from Islamism to other things. ‘Don’t forget the far right’ plays the same role as the left’s Tourette’s-like cry of ‘Don’t forget Islamophobia’ whenever someone talks about anti-Semitism – it’s about dissipating public anger in the hope that its unpredictable energy might be weakened.

And Sunak was doing similar when he suspended Anderson. He was agreeing, at some level, with the Anderson-haters’ censorious insistence that it’s risky to talk about Islamism in these socially volatile times. It revealed much about the Tories as we head to a General Election. It made it clear that every last atom of populism has been expunged from the party. And that the leadership dreads being on the wrong side of received opinion. And that the Red Wall and its representatives are very far down the list of people the Tories are willing to listen to. A pious op-ed from a Times wet seems to carry more weight than the cry of thousands of Red Wall voters who want extremism dealt with and reason restored.

There’s a class element to all this. You don’t have to subscribe to the fantasy about Lee Anderson being a modern-day Wat Tyler to recognise that much of the media animus against him is fired by classism. The Oxbridge opinion-forming set see him as thick and vulgar. And what they feared most about his Islamist remarks is that they would stir up other thick and vulgar people. We can’t have the likes of those talking about radical Islam, can we? In losing Anderson to Reform UK, the Tories have confirmed their abandonment of the Red Wall more broadly. I guess that great realignment of politics, where the Tories dreamt of becoming the new party of the working class, was bullshit all along.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Matt Ridley and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation

Matt Ridley and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation


Thursday 21 March – 7pm to 8pm GMT

This is a free event, exclusively for spiked supporters.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today