Conservative Association says niqab-wearing council candidate may ‘upset’ voters

A Conservative Association has selected a niqab-wearing mother to stand in next month’s local elections, despite admitting it may “upset” voters.

Fajila Patel, 36, has been chosen as one of the party’s candidates to contest the Bastwell and Daisyfield ward for Blackburn with Darwen Council, which is currently represented by three Labour councillors.

If elected she would be the first Conservative politician to wear a full veil, and possibly the first British politician to do so.

Julian Arnold, the local party chairman, hailed Mrs Patel’s selection as a “breakthrough”, and admitted that, since he took over the association in 2018, he had had to remove members because of Islamophobia.

In May 2021, an independent report found that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” among members of the Conservative Party.

Mrs Patel, however, said she had “no concerns” about Islamophobia, although she did criticise Boris Johnson’s description of women in niqabs as looking like “letterboxes”.

Discussing her decision to stand, the mother-of-four said she wanted to challenge the “great misconception” about women who wear full veils and drive a change in attitude towards them.

“The main reason is: I want to break down barriers. I wanted to help inspire other women to come forward and be confident enough to stand as a councillor.

“We all know that local politics in our community continues to be male-dominated.

“There are far too few women involved in local politics and this needs to change as I know women can make a huge contribution.

“It is important for women to have their voices heard. There is also a great misconception about females who wear the full veil in the UK. I wanted to help make a difference in my own community and help to bring about change,” she said.

The Tory candidate is backed by her husband, Tiger Patel, who himself won a surprise victory in the Labour stronghold after a series of viral social media videos.

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