David Cameron made a perfectly sensible speech at a security conference in Germany and – predictably enough – many of my fellow travellers have got their knickers in a twist.
Billy Bragg complains about the timing of the speech on his Facebook page, coinciding as it did with the English Defence League’s march through Luton. Dozens of fans then write on the Braggmeister’s wall to suggest that David Cameron is working in cahoots with the EDL, that making the speech in Germany is akin to saying ‘Hitler wasn’t all bad’, and that Tory ideology is based on white supremacy.
As I understand it, the PM’s attendance at the security conference was a longstanding commitment. Fine, the timing was maybe a bit unfortunate considering the EDL march, but the scheduling of Government business shouldn’t be dictated by the events calender of a right-wing street movement.
Some Labour MPs agree with the claim that Cameron is encouraging the EDL and other Muslim-bashers with his speech. Labour MP John McDonnell has tweeted “In every recession politicians find a scapegoat so instead of sorting out the bankers and their bonuses Cameron attacks Muslims. Same old”. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan made a similarly stupid comment about Cameron producing propaganda for the EDL.
This despite the fact that the PM said “We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing” and rejected “Islamophobia”. McDonnell and Khan therefore appear to be essentialising all Muslims as religious reactionaries who reject women’s rights, gay rights, secular democracy, etc. This is far more untrue and offensive than anything Cameron said in his speech.
Such lefties have an unsophisticated view of the world in which hatred and distrust of Tories outweigh their ability to perform objective analysis. I suspect that if David Cameron made a speech proclaiming that the Earth orbited the sun many of them would call for a general strike to demonstrate disagreement.
But it also comes from a the left’s attachment to the concept of multiculturalism. Opposition to multiculturalism, however defined, is equated to support for racism. However, the debate has moved on, with today’s far-right boot boys proclaiming themselves to be anti-racist and embracing the language of universal human rights. Suzanne Moore has a good article about this narrative shift here.
In contrast to the EDL, the left has failed to fully adapt its thinking and its discourse to deal with the rise of political Islam, the communitarian divisions which have been imported from the subcontinent, and the incidents of British Muslims becoming involved in terrorism.
The left needs an approach that will address people’s concerns and channel them into something other than the EDL’s ‘tide of patriotism’. And it could be to our electoral advantage if we do a better job of this than Cameron.
Considering the Conservatives’ sometimes uncomfortable relationship with issues around race and multiculturalism, I would say that Labour is better placed to produce a radical redefinition of multiculturalism. Or to just drop the word altogether.
Labour leader JR Clynes said that he came into politics not to practice the class war but to end it. That struggle continues, but it sits alongside cultural concerns and divisions that the left must also address.
Labour should uphold policies aimed at reducing cultural divisions rather than exacerbate them through crude state-sponsored multiculturalism – seen in policies such as propagating faith schools and trying to protect religious beliefs from criticism (yes, conveniently enough for this secularist my solution demands consistency through widespread secularisation!).
Demands for women’s rights, gay rights, secular laws, religious freedoms. These are all marks of human progress and all have originated from the left.
We must not surrender this language to the bigots of the EDL. We must not let our Conservative opponents pretend to do a better job of standing up for these demands. We must not compromise our values for fear of upsetting reactionary Muslim religionists.