Dear Lee Anderson, redneck Islamophobia is a gift to the Conservatives' opponents – John McLellan

If the rise of the Reform party continues, it will simply hand power to Labour

For all his fury, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn could be forgiven for finding himself a white Persian cat to stroke after the past week’s dramas. Perhaps his plot to embarrass the Labour party didn’t quite go to plan, but even he couldn’t have dreamt just how well events would pan out. He’s even got a steely Donald Pleasance look about him.

He could not have paid the House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle enough money to create Labour’s embarrassment over the SNP’s Gaza motion in the Commons. Sir Keir Starmer accused of bullying the Speaker, the Speaker accused of caving to pressure from his old party, Labour looking rather less like the party set to clean the stables and more like just another bunch of political manipulators.

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It was the perfect platform for Mr Flynn, displaying genuine fire in his belly which will have resonated with nationalists and frames him as the figure many will back to restore the glory days of Alex Salmond and an overall Holyrood majority. How ironic that once again the launchpad for the top SNP job is the UK Parliament.

Conservative MP Lee Anderson's outburst about London mayor Sadiq Khan has actually helped Labour and the SNP (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)Conservative MP Lee Anderson's outburst about London mayor Sadiq Khan has actually helped Labour and the SNP (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Conservative MP Lee Anderson's outburst about London mayor Sadiq Khan has actually helped Labour and the SNP (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Anderson ‘happier’ in Reform party?

The rammy then sucked in the Conservatives, when up popped former deputy party chair Lee Anderson on GB News with his golf club bar view that Islamist extremists had taken control of London mayor Sadiq Khan, London itself, and Sir Keir Starmer. “People are just turning up in their thousands and doing anything they want, and they are laughing at the police. And I feel absolutely disgusted,” he said. “This stems with Khan. He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.” No sooner had the Conservative whip been withdrawn after he refused to apologise than Nigel Farage was offering him a place in the Reform party where he felt Mr Anderson would “feel happier” and be a “massive help to the cause”.

If the cause is to be a home for redneck Islamophobia, then perhaps he would be, but even with Reform reaching double figures in the two recent by-elections, the most likely result from the rise in a hard-right alternative is to hand power to Labour and, if Mr Anderson is to be believed, the very people they fear the most.

For all its many critics, the first-past-the-post system is a guarantee that British politics always gravitates towards the centre, and Ukip, the Brexit party, Reform, and whatever its next manifestation may be, will always remain, if you pardon the pun, an outrider with no purpose other than to pick off protest votes, and provide a platform for variety performers like Mr Farage.

It is proportional representation which gives extremists a platform, and it’s a much-noted irony that the one place to which Mr Farage was able to win election was the European Parliament. Labour learnt the hard way that putting someone like Jeremy Corbyn in charge under the current system was a one-way ticket to irrelevance, and Labour’s embarrassment last week was a reminder of just how difficult it can be for the inroads of hardliners to be reversed.

Flynn lukewarm about Scottish Greens

The SNP is different because it remains principally a single-issue movement in which wildly opposing views are tolerated in the name of independence, but if Mr Anderson really wants to see a party captured by political extremists, he need only visit Scotland where the SNP has been marching to a Green party beat since the 2021 Bute House agreement.

It’s a deal for which Mr Flynn has given only lukewarm, transactional support, and the price of guaranteeing a parliamentary majority has been a series of policies marked by a lack of pragmatism and an overdose of dogma which is itself continuing to cause tension within the SNP and damaging their prospects in Mr Flynn’s Aberdeen back yard.

Of course, Scottish Conservatives acknowledge PR restored their platform after the 1997 wipe-out, but it can give minorities at either end of the political spectrum an influence they could never enjoy under a Westminster system, Israel amongst them. Moderate Germans fear the day the AfD forms part of a coalition.

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Sorting out extremists is not just a matter of excluding those whose views embarrass mainstream parties seeking broad appeal, but about dealing with the actions of unashamed extremists, the lack of which can lead to ill-considered reactions. How many people in northern England Red Wall constituencies will have seen the video from the Conservative meeting in Stoke-on-Trent in which a furious pro-Palestinian demonstrator accuses attendees of being child murderers, and not think Lee Anderson might have a point? Or where intimidation of MPs, such as that to which Labour’s Anneliese Dodds was subjected, is passed off by perpetrators as democratic accountability?

Unhinged outbursts

Drawing a line between freedom of expression and unacceptable confrontation is not easy, but senior figures in mainstream parties should rise above the mob, which is why it was unacceptable for Nicola Sturgeon to criticise abuse of a BBC reporter in 2022 outside the Conservative leadership hustings in Perth, but not of the people inches away who were subjected to much worse.

As Mr Anderson has just discovered, unhinged outbursts do your own side more harm than good, forcing his leader to spend time sorting out the mess without causing further divisions. Just when Labour was on the rack, the story became about the Conservatives and gave the SNP the chance to attack both. Well done, Lee.

Scottish Conservatives gather in Aberdeen this week for the annual conference, and there won’t be much talk about Gaza, but lots about oil and gas and the rural economy, and the opportunity that the lack of genuine support from either Labour or the SNP presents. All items on both the main and fringe agendas are on domestic issues, such as housing and public transport, and like the Rochdale by-election on Thursday, average voters want politicians to concentrate on what matters most to them. And despite Stephen Flynn’s success, that’s not events thousands of miles away.



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