The Conservative candidate for London Mayor is at the centre of an Islamophobia row, after he shared a tweet that meant thousands of his followers saw a message referring to Labour’s Sadiq Khan as “mad mullah Khan of Londonistan”.
Shaun Bailey retweeted a post last year which had shared a picture of Mr Khan and a racist caption which also branded Labour as “anti-British”.
The Conservative Party told The Independent there is “no way” Mr Bailey would have seen the offensive caption on the picture before sharing the post, as to do so one must click to open it.
But a London Labour MP branded the picture sent to more than 10,000 of Mr Bailey’s followers as “absolutely disgraceful” and accused the Tory politician of seeking to wage an Islamophobic campaign against Mr Khan.
On Friday the Tories confirmed that Mr Bailey had been chosen from three candidates to go head-to-head with the Labour mayor in the 2020 election.
The new row harks back to the 2016 battle, which saw Tory MP Zac Goldsmith wage what even some other Conservatives described as a “disgusting” campaign that sought to paint Mr Khan as closely linked to extremists.
It comes on the eve of the Conservative conference in Birmingham and amid wider concern over Islamophobia in the party, which flared up in the wake of Boris Johnson’s recent articles suggesting Muslim women in burqas and niqabs look like “bank robbers” and “letter boxes”.
In this latest incident, screenshots from Twitter show that the original offensive content was posted by one user and then shared in another post by a supporter of Mr Bailey, who then retweeted his supporter’s post.
He did so in the summer of 2017 amid a row over the cancellation of a bus contract signed off by Mr Khan’s Conservative predecessor, though the original post containing the content has now been deleted.
The offensive message in the initial tweet showed an image of Mr Khan, a Routemaster bus and the caption “mad mullah Khan of Londonistan has cancelled production of British built Routemaster bus and handed the contract to Germans”.
Then lower down it reads: “Yet another example of the anti-British Labour party putting the British worker last”.
A spokesman for Shaun Bailey said: “As The Independent’s screenshot shows, these grossly offensive words were in no way visible in the chain that was retweeted.
“Shaun was completely unaware of their existence, and as someone who has suffered racial abuse himself, there is no way on earth Shaun would ever knowingly have shared something so offensive.”
The row sets the scene for what is likely to be a long and gritty fight for City Hall, with Conservative deputy chair James Cleverly reminding Twitter users on Thursday that Mr Bailey himself had once been slurred by London Labour MP Emma Dent Coad as a “token ghetto boy”.
But Labour’s Ilford North MP Wes Streeting warned Mr Bailey against repeating “Zac Goldsmith’s Islamophobic campaign for London Mayor”.
He added: “The picture he shared on Twitter is absolutely disgraceful.”
A source at London Labour told The Independent: “Sadiq hopes this mayoral election will be a clean race based on what the candidates can offer Londoners – unlike the last.
“He’s looking forward to running on his record of delivering social housing in record numbers, cleaning up London’s filthy air and making transport more affordable for all Londoners, as well as standing up for our city in the Brexit negotiations.”
Following the 2016 mayoral campaign, chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum Mohammed Amin joined other senior Tory figures in condemning the attacks on Mr Khan by Mr Goldsmith.
Writing for the ConservativeHome website, Mr Amin said it had risked leading to the radicalisation of young Muslims in the UK.
Anger over the campaign persists today, with one of the three individuals that ran to be the Tory candidate, Andrew Boff, admitting that the attacks had been a “mistaken tactic”.
Mr Bailey, a youth worker who became an adviser to David Cameron before being elected to the London Assembly, is yet to go further than a joint statement issued by himself, Mr Boff and the other hopeful Joy Morrissey, which said that they “support all efforts to keep our capital open and integrated between all our communities”. He has also campaigned for, and received political backing from, Mr Goldsmith.
Former co-chair of the Conservatives Baroness Warsi has said that Islamophobia is “very widespread” in the Conservative party and complained that it has been “ignored” by leaders.
She later joined others including the Conservative Muslim Forum, and the Muslim Council of Great Britain in calling for an inquiry into the problem.
An internal Conservative process looking at Mr Johnson’s comparison of Muslim women in face coverings with “bank robbers” and “letter boxes” is underway after being automatically triggered after when party received several complaints about his articles