Former Conservative peer Baroness Shreela Flather has sparked outrage by claiming that all British Muslims live on benefits, prompting Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella group to brand her statement “ignorant”, “irresponsible” and “offensive”.
The latest in a series of anti-Muslim outbursts by the 78-year-old cross-bench peer came as she endorsed the alleged comment by the newly appointed Tory campaign chief.
Political strategist Lynton Crosby who led Boris Johnson’s two election campaigns for Mayor of London caused a row last month when it was alleged he advised Johnson to concentrate on traditional Tory voters instead of the “f@cking Muslims”. Crosby was not available to comment on the allegations.
The Australian was “right to say it is pointless for the Conservatives to chase Muslim votes. They are all on benefits and all vote Labour,” the self described Hindu Atheist told the Mail on Sunday.
Opponents slammed the outspoken peer who ironically once worked as the UK’s representative on the EU Advisory Commission on Racism and Xenophobia in the mid-1990s.
A spokesman of The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) told The Muslim News her remarks “are not only offensive but showing an incredible level of ignorance,”
“Muslims in the UK, including some leading members of the Conservative Party in the Parliament, have worked hard to build careers, to contribute to the local and wider communities and are UK taxpayers. Unfortunately, by making irresponsible and untrue comments like this Baroness Father denies herself being taken seriously,” he added. Labour Party Vice-Chair, Michael Dugher, MP, called on her to “immediately apologise.”
“These shocking comments are totally unacceptable. There can be no place in politics for this kind of language or for such grossly offensive and ignorant attitudes,” he said.
The Tories distanced themselves from their former peer who quit the Party in 2008 but fell short of condemning her.
“Flather is not a Conservative Peer and has not been so for some years,” a Conservative Party spokesman told The Muslim News.
“Her views in no way represent the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party has members from and represents all Britain’s faith groups. David Cameron’s Cabinet is the first in British history to contain a British Muslim woman.”
It is not the first time Flather has hit out at members of the Muslim community. Last year she claimed British Bangladeshis and Pakistanis had lots of children so they could claim extra benefits.
Flather made the comment in a House of Lords debate on the Welfare Reform Bill on September 13, 2011.
Flather, who was born in Lahore when it was part of India, praised the Indian community in the UK for having taken on “the pattern” of families in their adopted country, by limiting the size of their families.
But she took aim at the Pakistani community, saying “uneducated immigrants” are still following the traditions of their homeland by having more children to get a “bigger house”.
She told the peers: “The minority communities in this country, particularly the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis, have a very large number of children and the attraction is the large number of benefits that follow the child.
“Nobody likes to accept that, nobody likes to talk about it because it is supposed to be very politically incorrect.”
She added: “It is about time we stopped using children as a means of improving the amount of money they receive or getting a bigger house. I really feel that for the first two children there should be a full raft of benefits, for the third child three quarters and for the fourth child a half.”
Then in a statement to The Muslim News MP Rushanara Ali, said she was “appalled” by Flather’s comments. “Her remarks suggesting that people choose to have large families to increase welfare benefits are simply ignorant and offensive with no evidence,” she said.
The MP for Bethnal Green and Bow said, “Although birth-rates amongst Bangladeshi and Pakistani families are higher, by 2006 they were still below 3. This is too close to the replacement rate of 2.1 to be described as an epidemic of large families among these communities. On top of this, rather than rising, as Baroness Flather’s comments suggest, the birth rate halved for Bangladeshi families over the last 25 years.”
Unfazed by those who she accuses of “smothering open debate” with the accusation of racism, Flather reiterated her views three days after her Lords statement.
Writing in the Daily Mail she went a step further suggesting that Muslims were also partially to blame for the rise in single mothers on benefits.
Conceding that although “figures are hard to obtain…there may be around 1,000 polygamous families living in the UK, costing taxpayers millions of pounds every year.”
And speaking during a Lords debate on Welfare Reform Bill on January 23, Flathe said Bangladeshis and Pakistanis do not have high aspirations.
“I was very surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, say that the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians all have the same aspirations. I am sorry to say that I do not agree with that. I am afraid the aspirations of Indians are very high, but the aspirations of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis do not...”
Flather was unavailable to comment.