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In this week’s magazine | The challenge to Islam

A first look at this week’s magazine.





David Selbourne: the “frightened” and “self-censoring” west can no longer ignore the Islamist threat

Mona Siddiqui: why moderate Muslims must speak out against hardliners and “battle for the very soul of Islam”

















Two years since his last defeat in the London mayoral elections and six years since he left City Hall, Ken Livingstone tells the NS’s George Eaton that his successor is “a fairly lazy tosser” who now “works from home” while minions at City Hall “keep things ticking over”.


Ken on Boris’s record as Mayor of London:


“Except perhaps for the first year when he was mayor, which was pretty chaotic, everything else he’s done since has just been focused on that [becoming Conservative leader] . . .


“My sense was that as soon as he’d won the election, he’d completely recast City Hall and set a whole new agenda. But he hasn’t really done anything. He’s stopped all projects that weren’t committed except the bike scheme.


“Except for the cable car to nowhere, he hasn’t initiated any new projects. He hasn’t set a right-wing agenda.


“Those right-wing Tories who think he’s going to be the answer will be acutely disappointed. If he did ever become prime minister, the country would just drift. For Boris, it’s just about being there, not what you do with it.”


. . .


Livingstone continues: “The Telegraph had a picture of him standing in front of his desk after his fifth anniversary of being mayor. My shock was that he hadn’t moved a single thing. The desk was exactly as I left it the day I walked out; he hadn’t even moved the pot I kept my pens and pencils in. Everything was the same. It just suggested to me that, while Boris blusters in, it’s the minions who are keeping things ticking over. The deputies won’t set a new agenda, that’s the mayor’s job. If the mayor won’t do it, nothing happens.”


On Boris “working from home”:


Livingstone relishes the opportunity to reveal some uncomfortable tales about his old foe. “What I find interesting is that almost all the dirt I get on Boris comes from the Tory members on the [London] Assembly. They’re really angry because he’s decided he’s going to start working from home on Fridays.”


I later recall how (wonderful irony) it was Johnson who attacked ministers’ advice to Londoners to stay away from their workplaces during the 2012 Olympics (in order to reduce transport congestion) as a “skiver’s paradise”, declaring: “Some people will see the Games as an opportunity to work from home, in inverted commas. We all know that is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again. I don’t want to see too many of us doing that.”


Boris is a “lazy tosser” and out of touch on housing:


“After I lost the last election, Boris phoned me to say he’d like me to be his guest at the opening of the Olympic Games because it would be very bad if I wasn’t there, so I said, ‘That’s fine. Can I just try and explain something to you? We’ve got this real housing crisis: you need to start building homes for rent.’ And he said, ‘Homes for rent?’ and the shock in his voice was like I’d asked if I could sleep with his wife.


“You just realise, for this sort of leader running the Tory party, they don’t have a struggle paying rent: they reach a certain age, their parents give them a house, or they inherit one. They have no understanding of what it’s like.” His advice to Labour, which he believes will face Johnson as leader of the opposition before long, is “not to make the mistake of assuming they’re dealing with a hardline right-wing ideologue”. Rather, “they must concentrate on the fact they’re dealing with a fairly lazy tosser who just wants to be there”.


*Read the full interview at




In a provocative essay, David Selbourne argues that the west is “whistling in the dark” and crippled by “frightened self-censorship” in discussions around radical jihadist Islamism:


After the publication in the US in 2005 of my book The Losing Battle With Islam [US Secretary of State John] Kerry rang me to discuss the arguments in it. When he became secretary of state I told him (with some presumption) that the non-Muslim world is too unaware of what is afoot, hobbled by its wishful thinking and lack of knowledge, and whistling in the dark. In a position paper I wrote for him, I set out a list of the failures that the west, and especially the US, has on its hands. Among them are the failure to recognise the ambition of radical Islam; the failure to condemn the silence of most Muslims at the crimes committed in their names; the failure to respond adequately to the persecution of Christians in many Muslim lands; the failure to grasp the nature of the non-military skills that are being deployed against the non-Muslim world – skills of manoeuvre, skills in deceiving the gullible, skills in making temporary truces in order to gain time (as in Iran); and, perhaps above all, the failure to realise the scale and speed of Islam’s advance.


. . .


So where is the old left’s centuries-long espousal of free speech and free thought? Where is the spirit of Tom Paine? The answer is simple. It has been curbed by frightened self-censorship and by the stifling of debate, in a betrayal of the principles for which “progressives” were once prepared to go to the stake. And just as some Jews are too quick to call anti-Zionists “anti-Semites”, so some leftists are too quick to tar critics of Islam as “Islamophobes”.


In an essay on the “Arabisation” of Islam, Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, argues that the real battle is not between Islam and the west but between moderate and radical Muslims. Siddiqui urges Muslims to rescue their faith from hardliners:


There is no single Islamist threat. There is no unified vision of implementing sharia . . . the battle is among Muslims themselves; a battle for the very soul of Islam.


Selbourne paints a bleak political landscape and although many might disagree with his tone they will agree with his warnings. For me, as a Muslim, the issue is the conversations that Muslims are not having. Notwithstanding the current fears around terrorism and the power struggles in so many Muslim countries, there is a reluctance, even fear, of diverse ways of thinking and living in Islamic societies. There is also a propensity among many people in Islamic societies to undermine any kind of intellectualism, or critical inquiry about beliefs, traditions and institutions. The willingness to equate modernity with westernisation, and regard only certain cultural norms as the true expression of Islam, ensures a fear and control over people. People are either silenced or threatened.


Generosity and the spirit of intellectual inquiry, once hallmarks of Islamic civilisation, are being eclipsed by a gradual intolerance on so many levels. These are not symptoms of a yearning or a nostalgia, but a malaise that has made Islam appear a social and political anomaly in the eyes of many outside and inside the faith.





The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, travels to the US as David Axelrod joins Labour’s campaign. Stateside, he bumps into Tristram Hunt in a canteen at Harvard and meets Hillary Clinton as expectation mounts over a possible presidential run for the former secretary of state in 2016.


The day before the long Easter weekend, the papers are filled with coverage of David Axelrod joining the Labour campaign. After the Easter break, I’m on a plane to the United States, where I’ll be staying for four days.


My first destination is Harvard University. In the hotel canteen for breakfast, I unexpectedly run into my shadow cabinet colleague Tristram Hunt. It turns out that he’s on campus for meetings on education policy. Next, I see Mark Penn – Hillary Clinton’s pollster in 2008 and Labour’s pollster in 2005. It’s that kind of place.


. . .


Personally, the only race I run the next day is against myself in the gym. There, early in the morning, I catch the live interview with David Axelrod on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. For reasons I can’t quite figure out, the broadcast is aired live from the legendary baseball stadium Wrigley Field in Chicago. In the middle of the diamond-shaped field, in pre-dawn freezing conditions, there is Labour’s latest recruit, holding forth on the coming midterm elections, resplendent in his beloved Chicago Cubs jacket.


The interview makes me more relaxed about the British weather he will encounter when he arrives in London in a couple of weeks, but rather more nervous about the appropriate dress code for his strategy meetings at Labour HQ.


. . .


The next day, I fly west to a gathering that brings together Hillary Clinton and a number of senators from both sides of the aisle. The formal focus of the discussions is the Middle East but, inevitably, there is also much discussion of Ukraine . . . There is little doubt that her continuing celebrity status – even among her former colleagues in the Senate – reflects many people’s future hopes as much as her past achievements. The sense of expectation around a possible presidential run in 2016 is palpable.





Rafael Behr, political editor of the NS, explains that Nick Clegg’s decision to martyr himself as “commander of pro-EU forces” in the European parliamentary elections suits both Labour and the Tories:


Labour and the Tories are happy for the Lib Dems to martyr themselves for Europe, albeit for different reasons. Ed Miliband’s instincts on the subject are hardly distinguishable from Clegg’s. However, the Labour leader wants to use the campaign in May to develop the themes that will be central to his bid for Downing Street next year – the cost of living; the unfair distribution of rewards in a lopsided economy. Labour’s preferred method for countering Ukip incursions into its northern English heartlands is to depict the party as a virulent new mutant strain of Thatcherism.


David Cameron is more at ease talking about Europe as long as the conversation is limited to Labour’s reluctance to call a referendum and Farage’s inability to deliver one. Things get difficult for the Prime Minister when the question arises of how he would vote in that putative poll. The logic of his position is more pro-EU than he admits. The intent to renegotiate British membership is based on the assumption that any deal would be so attractive that Cameron could sell it as the centrepiece of the “in” campaign. It is also supposed to involve reforms that other member states can embrace as general improvements to European governance. He cannot spell out a plan in detail because Conservative backbenchers would denounce it as insufficient and Continental leaders would warn that it is unrealistic. The stability of the Conservative Party currently relies on the pretence that Cameron can broker something that looks simultaneously like a renewal of vows and a divorce to two different audiences.


*Read the Politics Column in full below





In an exclusive video interview with Philip Maughan for, the terminally ill poet and broadcaster Clive James reads his new poem “Driftwood Houses” (published in the NS of 18 April), and reflects on his career, family and the power of “simple, ordinary things”.


James tells Maughan he plans to abandon journalism over the coming months in order to start work on a new book. His forthcoming book of poetry criticism will be published this autumn, he says, “even if I drop off the twig”.




Laurie Penny: Nigel Farage may look like he’s acting in a farce but he’s no joke

On Location: Will Self gets the measure of Manchester

Dimi Reider on the reconciliation pact between Hamas and Fatah

Philip Maughan on the legacy of the young, gifted writer Marina Keegan

Tom Humberstone wonders how Vlad will take Barack’s sanctions

Michael Brooks on the international commotion over leap seconds

Sophie McBain explores what our names say about our ancestors – and our chances of privilege

The NS television critic Rachel Cooke on three great new cop dramas

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.