Peace in nobody’s time – Why David Cameron will come to regret his Munich moment

by Atul Hatwal

The English Defence League marches through Luton and David Cameron pops up attacking multiculturalism. Coincidence? Yeah, right.

Tackling radicalisation and its root causes is enormously important, but blaming the right’s favourite bête noire, multiculturalism, is lazy and wrong. Wrong about the reality of multiculturalism in this country and wrong about what will make us all safer.

In Britain there are nearly 11 million people from minority ethnic communities. The minority population in towns across the Northwest, Yorkshire, the Midlands and Bedfordshire where there have been problems constitute a small fraction of the total in Britain.

In these areas, the muslim population tends to be from the British Pakistani community and numbers about 500,000, of whom the vast majority will be utterly opposed to extremism. The problems that Cameron was referring to are real but are manifest in less than 5% of Britain’s minority communities.

The reality is that in most of the country, people from different communities get along fine. No conflict, no protests, they just go about their business, day in, day out. Because it’s so prosaic, it doesn’t make the news. But it’s what happens.

If Cameron is saying that the pockets of problems are a failure of multiculturalism, then the experience of over 95% of the minority communities in this country demonstrates its larger success.

There is a lot of work to do in some communities to build belief in liberal democratic values, but then that same work also needs to be done on some of the white working class estates from where the EDL and BNP draw their support. Cameron’s silence on this last point was deafening.

More importantly for the security of the country, by fixating on multiculturalism, Cameron has completely missed the true enabler of extremism – deprivation. The cycle of poor education, unemployment and poverty creates the environment in which extremism thrives.

In the areas where there have been problems, unemployment is frequently over 20% while GCSE results at A*- C are under 20%. This holds as true on the white estates in Bradford, Luton or Blackburn as it does in the British Pakistani parts of town.

David Cameron can have as much “muscular liberalism” as he wants, but it will mean nothing if the people in these communities – white or brown – do not have jobs or hope of a brighter future.

For the prime minister, things are about to get more difficult. He’s nailed his monocultural colours to the mast. Expectations on his side of the fence have been raised. The Daily Mail, Telegraph and right-wing of his party are now waiting for the practical policy to deliver on his words.

The cross-government strategy on preventing violent extremism has been bouncing round Whitehall for months. First it went from home office to communities and local government and now it looks like its headed back the other way. The prime minister’s speech will kick-off another round of redrafting. But making “muscular liberalism” into a policy is a tough ask.

Are British Pakistanis in Burnley going to have to pray on union jack prayer mats? Will there be compulsory Britishness classes after Friday prayers? And what about the EDL? Will there be any “muscular liberalism” headed their way?

The truth is that the policy package which emerges will not be enormously different to what the last government did. There may be an attempt to reach beyond the usual suspects when working within minority communities, which is to be lauded. Too often niche organisations purporting to represent their community cream off government funds, while having little practical influence, or interest in their broader constituency. On this one point, the prime minister was right. But the last government tried this and then concluded that it was all a bit too difficult.

Meaningful engagement with minority communities requires more than just the wave of a pen in Whitehall. It will mean building new structures for representation and dialogue from the ground up to replace the rotten old ones. Spending precious funds on this will go down like a cup of cold sick in the leader columns of the Daily Mail and Telegraph.

The politicians and civil servants will soon conclude, once again, that the pain isn’t worth it. There might be a rebranding of some of the organisations, maybe bringing them together under some type of new umbrella group to give the whole thing a lick of new paint. But fundamentally it will be the same faces round the same table, as they ever were.

As an opposition leader looking to detoxify the Conservative brand, David Cameron made big strides in changing the tone and language his party used when discussing issues of race and faith.

But, like so much of the modernisation, the change seems to have been cosmetic. Now he’s in office, it’s back to the red meat, blaming multiculturalism for the ills of the nation. It’s a sell out, not only for all those who expected more, but of his political strategy from opposition.

Sadiq Khan was absolutely right to say that the prime minister was “writing propaganda for the English Defence League”. His comments provoked the expected howls from the right, but Khan must stand firm.

The way to turn back the English Defence League is not with a nod and a wink from the prime minister that validates their arguments. Sadiq Khan called the Tories on it and they don’t like it. Their cries for an apology are self-important bluster. They are affronted because for the first time in recent memory, a leading Labour politician has had the guts to stand up to them.

For many in the Labour party, it’s not before time.

Critically for Cameron, his speech has set expectations in a way he can’t hope to meet. By accepting the narrative that it is values and identity which drive extremism, Cameron has picked the wrong target and taken on more than he can manage.

Britishness classes and seminars will not matter a bean as the cuts bite hard in these areas, unemployment goes up and extremist ideas offer a simple way out to the angry dispossessed.

When this happens, he will be back at square one, government will have wasted more time in tackling the real causes of extremism and all of us will be that little less safe.

Tags: , , , ,

6 Responses to “Peace in nobody’s time – Why David Cameron will come to regret his Munich moment”

  1. Pelletor says:

    I wonder how Baroness Warsi will take to Cameron’s change in tone? Unhappily agreeing to toe the line, most likely.

  2. Nils Boray says:

    A former colleague used to occasionally bring her two daughters in to work. They were between 8 & 10 years old. She’d been born in Bangladesh but had no recollection of the country. Her Bangladeshi father had spent over 30 years working in a London hotel. She was educated at a North London comp, and identifies strongly as a British Bangladeshi. Her daughters would often be seen in Shalwar Kamiz with an England shirt on top. It was delightful – felt so right.

    That’s multi-culturalism working. They’re proud of their culture, and proud of the one(s) they’re coming to – and both are changing and adapting over time. Not assimilating either culture but accommodating all cultures.

  3. Ayub Khan says:

    We do have to accept that there is a problem in the Muslim community with some having very narrow views about western life. There is also too much of a silent majority in the Muslim community who are not standing up to those that hold these narrow views.

    When the BNP and National front were at the height of thier fame it was in fact the white majority in this country that destroyed thier views. This is why the silent majority in the muslim community need to rise and take a stand againt the radicalised views of the few.

    Cameron is opportunistic in this speech and is clearly pandering to the right of his party. He should have taken the opportunity to slam the EDL at the same time.

  4. Thank you for this excellent article. I suspect the timing was a mistake, but apart from that I agree. Cameron has made a huge error here. He has opened up a faultline which he cannot repair. What’s mystifying is WHY?

    What drove him to do it? Was it just softening up the ground prior to making cuts? I guess so. But don’t light fires if you haven’t got the wit or the wherewithal to put them out.

    The Munich moment for me is Cameron’s first really stupid political error, because it was both so unnecessary and so potentially damaging to race relations.

    You might despise his policies but until now you couldn’t knock his presentation. Munich marks the moment when Cameron lost his touch.

  5. I agree that Cameron’s speech was a mistake both on policy and politics.
    On policy, he seems to be confused about the relationship between liberalism and multiculturalism. They are interdependent, not in opposition to one another. Multiculturalism presupposes a degree of liberalism and to some extent vice versa. Liberalism could exist in a ‘monocultural’ world but I’m not sure that it would need to be particularly ‘muscular’ if we all had a shared identity and set of values.
    And on the politics, if Cameron was just engaged in a tactical exercise of tossing bones to the right in order to keep them sweet for a while, it runs, as you say, completely counter to the ‘brand detox’ strategy he needs to continue to pursue, and he will regret it sooner or later.
    However, I really don’t think the charge of ‘writing EDL propaganda’ stands up. I think the timing was indeed deliberate (surely someone at No 10 would have spotted that there was an EDL march taking place?!) but I think it was an attempt to put a respectable case in contrast with the, er, ‘less temperate’ EDL message.
    The fact that some on the far right have endorsed some of the arguments put forward in the speech does not make those arguments invalid. I can’t remember who said that ‘ideas are not responsible for the people who hold them’ but by way of analogy, George Galloway was backing Ed Balls to the hilt on Question Time a couple of weeks back. I’m pretty sure Balls wouldn’t want to be associated with the full gamut of Gorgeous George’s economic thought. The fact that race relations is a more sensitive subject than the right approach to fiscal policy doesn’t fundamentally alter this.

  6. Read the Speech says:


    You say:

    “He should have taken the opportunity to slam the EDL at the same time”

    He did. He named no far Right Muslim or White Nationalist groups by name. However, the targets of the attacks were very clear:

    ” On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism, and just say that Islam and the West are irreconcilable – that there is a clash of civilizations. So, it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion, whether that is through forced repatriation, favoured by some fascists, or the banning of new mosques, as is suggested in some parts of Europe . These people fuel Islamophobia, and I completely reject their argument. If they want an example of how Western values and Islam can be entirely compatible, they should look at what’s happened in the past few weeks on the streets of Tunis and Cairo : hundreds of thousands of people demanding the universal right to free elections and democracy.”

    I can’t see a single word of this that a Labour supporter or anti-fascist wouldn’t support.

Leave a Reply