i-Engage disengaged

A highly organised phalanx of 50 backbench Conservatives rallied this week to vote against using i-Engage, an anti-Zionist Muslim organisation, as the secretariat for the all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia.

The operation took supporters of i-Engage by surprise, as MPs from all parties voted 60-2 to drop the organisation.

The decisive vote on Monday was hailed as an important victory for common sense by Nick Boles, a close ally of the Prime Minister, who along with Harlow MP Robert Halfon led the opposition to retaining the services of i-Engage.

In February, Kris Hopkins, the Conservative chair of the group, and Labour vice-chair Lord Janner, resigned over the decision to use iEngage.

The new chair, Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes, pledged to investigate iEngage before it was confirmed in the role.

In June he asked Birmingham University academic Chris Allen to compile a report to be sent to members of the group.

Mr Allen's report into iEngage, which the Community Security Trust has described as having "a troubling attitude to antisemitism", was circulated on Monday.

In it Mr Allen concluded: "Since its launch in November 2010 the APPG on Islamophobia has been little more than a sideshow: an unhelpful, unwanted and unnecessary distraction from giving Islamophobia the rightful, timely and necessary attention it so desperately needs.

"There can be no doubt whatsoever that the credibility of the APPG has been damaged."

Members who had supported i-Engage in the past either failed to turn up, as was the case with Conservative MP Peter Bottomley, or changed their mind, as happened with Labour's Jack Straw.

The group agreed that new officers would be elected at the next meeting, to be held in the autumn. It now seems unlikely that Simon Hughes will be chosen to chair the group. Members also decided that no outside group would be chosen to do the work of the secretariat to avoid a repeat of the i-Engage fiasco.

The Islamophobia group is based on a similar APPG on antisemitism, set up six years ago to carry out an inquiry into anti-Jewish prejudice in Britain.

Last updated: 1:46pm, July 21 2011