Clegg breaks with Cameron on multiculturalism

Speaking in Luton, the Deputy Prime Minister endorses multiculturalism and rejects Cameron's depicti

Nick Clegg has split from David Cameron in his definition of multiculturalism.

The Deputy Prime Minister gave a speech today in Luton -- a symbolic location, given that when Cameron spoke on the same subject in Munich last month, an English Defence League rally took place in the town.

Where Cameron was pessimistic and critical about multiculturalism -- prompting Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan to accuse him of "writing propaganda for the EDL" -- Clegg is positive, and advocates engagement.

It is a significant break in opinion, and while Clegg was careful to signal points of agreement with Cameron throughout the speech, it frequently reads like a direct answer to the PM's points. Over at ConservativeHome, Paul Goodman expresses concern about Clegg's timing in stoking media speculation about a division in the coalition. However, a little disapproval from the Tories is probably no bad thing for Clegg, who needs to shore up support from Lib Dems. Paul Waugh notes that many Tories will see this speech as based not just on principle, but on "the practical need of the Lib Dems to shore up their ethnic vote".

Let's compare and contrast the key points.

On multiculturalism

Cameron:

Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.

Clegg:

For me, multiculturalism has to seen as a process by which people respect and communicate with each other, rather than build walls between each other. Welcoming diversity but resisting division: that's the kind of multiculturalism of an open, confident society.

On the nature of the threat

Cameron:

It's important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group...

Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that this threat comes overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse and warped interpretation of Islam and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.

Clegg:

My point is this. We need a perfect symmetry in our response to crime and violent extremism. Bigots are bigots, whatever the colour of their skin. Criminals are criminals, whatever their political beliefs. Terrorists are terrorists, whatever their religion.

On banning organisations

Cameron:

We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism - against people at home and abroad. Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are certainly, in some cases, part of the problem. We need to think much harder about who it's in the public interest to work with

Clegg:

You don't win a fight by leaving the ring. You get in and win. The overwhelming majority of the people attending this conference are active, engaged and law-abiding citizens. We don't win people to liberal ideals by giving ourselves a leave of absence from the argument.

Equally, smart engagement means being extremely careful about decisions to proscribe individual organisations. There are occasions when that is the right course of action. I have to say that, for me, agreeing to the proscription of the Pakistani Taliban was a straightforward decision. But proscription must always be a last resort, never a knee-jerk reflex.

On liberalism

Cameron:

Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism. 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. A genuinely liberal country does much more.

Clegg:

In an open, liberal society, individuals are free to live in the manner of their choosing, so long as they do not harm others.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Corbyn is personally fireproof, but his manifesto could be torched by the Brexit blaze

There is no evidence that EU migration has depressed wages – but most Labour MPs believe it has.

News, like gas, expands to fill the space available to it. That’s why the summer recess can so often be a time of political discomfort for one party or another. Without the daily grind of life at Westminster, difficult moments can linger. Minor rows become front-page news.

There are many reasons why Theresa May is spending three weeks hiking in northern Italy and Switzerland, and one of them is that it is hard to have a leadership crisis if your leader is elsewhere. That makes the summer particularly dangerous for Labour. The danger is heightened as the majority of the press is unsympathetic to the party and the remainder is simply bored. Even a minor crisis could turn into a catastrophe.

Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show on 23 July, therefore, carried the same risks as juggling lit matches in a dry forest. The Labour leader ruled out continuing participation in the single market after Britain leaves the political structures of the European Union. For good measure, he added that the “wholesale importation” of people from eastern and central Europe had been used to undermine pay and conditions for British workers. Both statements only aggravate the stress fractures in the Labour movement and in its electoral coalition.

The good news for the Labour leader is that he is fireproof. Only God or Corbyn himself can prevent him from leading the party into the next election, whenever it comes, and no one will be foolish enough to try to remove him, even if they had the inclination. Also, while the question of what flavour of Brexit to pursue divides Labour in the country, it doesn’t divide Labour at Westminster. Most Labour MPs nodded along in agreement with Corbyn during the Marr interview. They believe – as the shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, outlined a day later – that remaining in the customs union and the single market would be a betrayal of the wishes of Leave voters, who want full control over Britain’s borders and laws.

There is no evidence that migration from the eastern bloc has depressed wages. But most Labour MPs believe that it has. “I am convinced,” one formerly pro-European MP told me, “that no matter what the studies say, immigration has reduced wages.”

Most of the Labour people who are willing to kick up a fuss about “hard” Brexit are outside parliament. These include the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, who wants Britain to remain in the single market; the general secretary of the TSSA union, Manuel Cortes, who recently used the New Statesman website to urge the party to keep all of its options open, including a second referendum to keep Britain in the EU; and the rapper Akala, who lambasted Corbyn’s interview on Twitter. While a large minority of Labour MPs back a softer version of Brexit, they are a minority, and not a large enough one to combine with Tory dissidents to make a Commons majority, even when the votes of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green MP Caroline Lucas are taken into account.

This increases the party’s dependence on Jeremy Corbyn. As the leader’s aides observe, even among the quarter of the country that believes the government should simply overturn the referendum result, only a quarter of that quarter do so because they have a particular affection for the institutions of the European Union.

For the majority of hard Remainers, Brexit is a significant battleground in a larger culture war, one in which Corbyn is otherwise in perfect alignment with their values. His electoral appeal to Labour MPs is that he is someone who can say the same things on Brexit and migration as Yvette Cooper or Stephen Kinnock previously did, but without losing votes in England’s great cities.

The electoral threat to Labour from backing a harder form of exit is, in any case, often overstated. The first-past-the-post system makes the Liberal Democrats an inadequate refuge for anguished Remainers in England, while the SNP’s support for Scottish independence makes it an unsuitable home for Labour refugees in Scotland. Team Corbyn feels that Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ new leader, will struggle to convince Labour voters that he can be trusted because of the role he played in designing the new system of tuition fees (having previously pledged to vote against them). In any case, the risk of letting in a Conservative prime minister – probably one committed to a version of Brexit even harder than Labour’s – further locks Remainers in Labour’s corner.

That leaves Labour in Westminster free to pursue a version of Brexit that meets the needs of both the leadership, which relishes the freedom to pursue a more radical economic policy unconstrained by the European Union, and Labour MPs, particularly those with seats in Yorkshire and the Midlands, who are concerned about opposition to immigration in their constituencies. This has the happy side effect of forcing the Conservatives to take the blame for delivering any Brexit deal that falls short of the promises made by Vote Leave during the referendum and in the high-blown rhetoric used by Theresa May during the election campaign.

However, all is not rosy. What most Labour MPs seem to have forgotten is that Brexit is not simply a political battleground – something to be leveraged to reduce the number of complaints about migration and to hasten the Tory government into an early grave. There is a political victory to be had by using the Brexit process to clobber the government. But there is also a far bigger defeat in store for the left if leaving the EU makes Britain poorer and more vulnerable to the caprice of international finance. That Jeremy Corbyn is personally fireproof doesn’t mean that his manifesto can’t be torched by the Brexit blaze. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue