Sunday, February 06, 2011

Cameron's racist "liberalism"

Overnight, UK Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in which he claimed that multiculturalism had failed in the UK, and pushed for liberal ideology as a mark of "Britishness":

"Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality.

"It says to its citizens: This is what defines us as a society. To belong here is to believe these things."

(Obviously. That's why the UK still has an officially established religion...)

There are several responses which could be made to this: that multiculturalism is a two-way street, and the reasons for problems in the UK stem more from the dominant cultures rejection of and hatred towards other cultures than their supposed "insularity". That the focus on "Britishness" (which is really "Englishness") by Cameron and his predecessors is another example of this rejection, another way of telling people "you don't belong because you're not white and christian". That the top-down imposition of any state ideology is deeply incompatible with a liberal society, which must by definition tolerate the illiberal elements within it if it is to remain true to its ideals. But instead, I'll just highlight Cameron's proposed "solution": to publicly shun illiberal groups:

David Cameron will today signal a sea-change in the government fight against home-grown terrorism, saying the state must confront, and not consort with, the non-violent Muslim groups that are ambiguous about British values such as equality between sexes, democracy and integration.

To belong in Britain is to believe in these values, he will say. Claiming the previous government had been the victim of fear and muddled thinking by backing a state-sponsored form of multiculturalism, the prime minister will state that his government "will no longer fund or share platforms with organisations that, while non-violent, are certainly in some cases part of the problem".

This is great in theory: of course the government shouldn't share a platform with (and so tacitly endorse) hate-groups. That would be like (to pick a non-random example) tacitly endorsing domestic violence by snuggling up to a convicted back-breaker. But note the specifics: this only applies to Muslim groups. The British government is quite happy to pay £1.85million for the Pope - a sexist homophobe - to visit. Its quite happy to snuggle up to Irish Unionist politicians, who espouse both religious hatred and homophobia. Closer to home, the party of Enoch Powell contains a multitude of bigots, from Richard Drax, who thinks that teaching kids about homosexuality would impose "questionable sexual standards", to Julian Lewis, who thinks gay sex should require a higher age of consent "to protect teenagers", to Chris Grayling, who thinks hotel owners should be able to say no to gays. The latter is a government Minister, BTW, and Cameron sits around the Cabinet table with him.

So, Cameron's position is that the government will tolerate racism, sexism, and homophobia from white people (and particularly Conservative MPs), but not from Muslims. That's grossly hypocritical. If Cameron is serious about tolerance, then maybe he should clean his own house first? But he won't, because this speech was never about promoting tolerance. Instead, its just more racist dogwhistling to the BNP demographic.