The Tories and their media allies are trying to get their critics to just shut up and move on following the party’s humiliation in the London Mayoral election. But after several weeks of borderline Islamophobia and dog-whistling, the idea that the nasty taste can be merely wished away by saying Labour’s Sadiq Khan was “asked robust questions” which he then answered is convincing no-one. That Includes the Tories’ own supporters.
That did not stop our Prime Minister - twice - standing up in the Commons and asserting that “This man supports IS”. The rules on Parliamentary privilege mean that, however defamatory that remark, no action can be taken against Cameron for making it. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the Tories’ dead cat thrower-in-chief Michael Fallon then made the same claim in a BBC radio broadcast.
As a result, Suliman Gani instructed his lawyers and proceedings were issued yesterday morning. By the afternoon, Fallon had withdrawn his claim and apologised. That might have been an end to it, except for two things that caused the Tories to only dig themselves in deeper. One was Fallon trying to deflect by claiming BBC Daily Politics lead presenter Andrew Neil had claimed Suliman Gani supported IS.
But Neil had withdrawn his assertion and apologised for making it some weeks ago. It got worse: after Fallon said sorry, Cameron then followed suit … except he didn’t really. This is what Dave said in the Commons: “Suliman Gani - the Hon Member for Tooting has appeared on a platform with him nine times. This man supports IS”.
Quite apart from the disrespect shown to Sadiq Khan, who is a Privy Councillor and therefore should be addressed as the Rt Hon Member for Tooting, the meaning of Cameron’s assertion is clear. But still there was wriggling: “In reference to the Prime Minister’s comments on Suliman Gani, the Prime Minister was referring to reports that he supports an Islamic state. The Prime Minister is clear this does not mean Mr Gani does not support the organisation Daesh and he apologises to him for any misunderstanding”.
And that’s not good enough. The idea that any party can fight a dirty campaign - as the Tories have just done in London - then claim this is no more than “the rough and tumble of politics”, and hide behind carefully crafted forms of words assisted by Parliamentary privilege, is exactly what turns so many aspiring politicians off getting involved.
Cameron, Fallon and those directing the Tories’ London Mayoral campaign must say sorry, and do so unequivocally. Then then can commit to never going there again.