Conservative MP Paul Scully apologises for ‘no-go areas’ in Tower Hamlets claim

Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam, Paul Scully Pic: Richard Townshend 

Paul Scully, the Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam, apologised yesterday following a backlash for his controversial comments on “no-go areas” in parts of Tower Hamlets. 

Former London minister Scully said in a BBC Radio London interview yesterday that he: “puts his hands up,” and “regrets” the language he used. 

However, he said in an interview with News Agents Podcast that he was: “slightly furious with himself” that his comments allowed his point to be misunderstood: “[What] I was trying to say was that the kind of comments that we’ve heard from Lee Anderson and others in recent days and weeks, the populist approach, sometimes is fuelled by…perceptions that people have… There are areas of this country where there are tiny, tiny groups of people that cause people to feel uncomfortable in particular areas…That might be a white…black… [or] Muslim gang…and that then tends to write off whole communities for some people…But that’s different from a no-go area in terms of the wider context…” 

Councillor Sirajul Islam, leader of Tower Hamlets Labour group said in a statement yesterday: “It says something about the state of the modern Conservative Party that its MPs feel comfortable parroting the type of comments made by far-right extremists. There aren’t any “no-go” areas in our borough and if Mr Scully feels like he can only condemn the Islamophobic comments made by his Tory colleagues, by qualifying it with tropes deployed by fascist organisations, then he’s not the ally he’d like to think he is. Our borough doesn’t need lessons from the Tories on how to beat the far right, we’ve done it plenty of times before.” 

One Tower Hamlets resident told the BBC that though Scully had apologized: “Once it’s out there, it’s out there. It’s going to cause people to feel a certain kind of way.” 

Scully had been accused of allegedly propagating Islamophobia, after his comments Monday in interviews with BBC Radio London and BBC London TV, claiming that there are “no go areas” in Tower Hamlets, a borough that is largely populated by Muslim communities, and then later defending those comments.  Scully also referred to ‘no-go’ areas in Sparkhill, an inner city area of Birmingham with a high Muslim population and which also provoked angry responses.

According to a Tower Hamlets Annual Resident Survey for 2023, there are 35.7% of Muslims within the borough, followed by 27.9% who have no religion or belief, and 23.5% of Christians. 

East London Mosque. Pic: AA

This comes in the wake of former Conservative chairman Lee Anderson’s suspension from the Conservative party, Monday after his claim that “Islamists control” London Mayor Sadiq Khan. 

Scully had attempted to address Anderson’s comments calling them: “…wrongheaded and really inflammatory” before his controversial comments on no-go areas in Tower Hamlets. 

Those comments drew swift criticism from both MP’s that represent Tower Hamlets, Conservative and Labour Party Members, as well as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. 

The spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said in a statement yesterday: “These comments are surprising and extremely disappointing. Tower Hamlets is one of the most popular places in the country to live, work and visit … Tower Hamlets is a microcosm of an international city. We are an example of how people of all backgrounds get on together in one of the most diverse places in the country. In fact, 87% of people said they get on with each other in our recent survey of residents. As a result, Tower Hamlets is the fastest growing and most densely populated place in the UK. We also have London’s youngest population because of how dynamic and exciting our borough is.” 

Shops in Brick Lane in the centre of the borough: Pic Steve Daniels

The Home Office minister Tom Pursglove, had called for Scully to retract the comments: “I think it would be best…if that comment was withdrawn…we as politicians must always be forward leaning and on the front foot when it comes to integrating people into our communities and making sure that people are able to play a full contribution in UK society.” 

Rushana Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, tweeted on X/Twitter at the time saying: “This is exactly the exactly the kind of language that stirs up hate and division. I hope Paul Scully will apologise. He should know better and ought to be condemning racism and anti-Muslim hate rather than fuelling it”.

Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, said on X/Twitter: “No-go areas” is a well-known racist trope. It’s not been misconstrued. This isn’t a frenzy. The chilling escalation in Islamophobia and targeting of our area by the far-right, is serious. Apologise and commit to not pandering racists, the far-right and their playbook again.” 

Begum had previously tweeted about the issue saying: “Politicians pandering to racists is putting my constituents at risk. Islamophobia is soaring. Locally, the East London Mosque has received bomb threats.…[I]n #TowerHamlets, we are diverse, multicultural, multiracial, people of all faiths and none, and from all around the word – and we will continue to stand together against intolerance, division and hate.” 

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