What Cameron actually said, and why it was cynical cant

by Victoria Williams

“Go Home Muslims” signs still littered the streets of Luton as the prime minister took to the podium at the Munich security conference to address the “threat” of Islamist extremism. Attacking New Labour’s policy of “hands off tolerance” to those who choose not to subscribe to Western values, he called for a “more active, muscular liberalism”, to counter what he views as a lack of integration among immigrant communities.

Warming to the theme, he said:

“A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values“.

If he’d stopped speaking then, you could be forgiven for thinking “what a sensible man, perhaps I’ve misjudged him”.  After all, what on earth could be wrong with leaving people to their beliefs so long as they don’t break the law?

So many were left scratching their heads wondering what Cameron’s definition of the word “liberal” actually is, when he continued:

“A genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them… It says to its citizens: This is what defines us as a society”.

So then “liberal” means “forcing your beliefs onto others and excluding them from society if they disagree”.  You learn something new every day.

Who, other than Cameron, says that multiculturalism and integration are mutually exclusive? It is hard to disagree with Margaret Hodge when she says that a higher uptake of English lessons among recent immigrants would beneficial to all of us. Outside of that, though, how does having personal faith exclude one from society? The UK is only nominally a Christian country;  should those who subscribe to a secular set of values also find themselves on the fringes of society?  A society is shaped by those who live within it. It cannot be dictated by the state.

Cameron has quite rightly been accused of playing into the hands of extremist anti-immigration groups such as the EDL and the BNP. He has also humiliated his deputy, Nick Clegg, whose own party favoured a more lax approach to immigration, including extending an amnesty to illegal immigrants.

It remains to be seen whether this will deepen the rift in the Tory-Lib Dem government, already on shaky ground after a number of Lib Dem walkouts over the decision to raise tuition fees. Either way, it will boost the opposition in the long run.

Victoria Williams is a freelance journalist.

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3 Responses to “What Cameron actually said, and why it was cynical cant”

  1. Alex says:

    There is a perfectly reasonable debate to be had amongst liberals about the extent to which illiberal practices should be tolerated. Cameron could quite easily turn round to you and say “So then ‘liberal’ means ‘tolerating arranged marriages or denying homosexuals equal rights’? You learn something new every day.”

  2. Rob Marchant says:

    I agree with Alex wholeheartedly. Check my piece here on why the “playing into the hands of the EDL/BNP” argument is wrong. And, much as I like his writing, I think Dan Hodges has called this one quite wrongly as well.

  3. David says:

    I agree with Rob and Alex. We should attack Cameron on his economic programme and the impact that his cuts will have on our society.

    However, he is right on this issue. Blair made a speech in 2005 which said pretty much the same thing as Cameron said. This policy was Labour’s policy for much of Labour in power.

    We mustn’t be cynical hypocrites over this issue.

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