1David Cameron’s Munich Speech (5th February 2011) has been frequently presented both as a major departure from New Labour’s approach to diversity management and as a serious blow to multiculturalism. The speech echoed, that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, in October 2010, had called German multikulti - a concept that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s -a ‘total failure’. The speech - Cameron’s first multiculturalism speech as Prime Minister - was delivered not as part of a European ministerial conference on integration (such summits have been held every other year since 2004 with a view to exchanging ‘good practices’) but as part of a European security conference.
2The study of this speech will be an excuse for us to examine, one and a half years after the formation of the Coalition, how the new government has dealt with diversity-related issues and to what extent the hybrid nature of the new majority and the critical financial situation have impacted on the framing and reception of integration policies.
3Through an analysis of the Munich speech, part one of this article will qualify and indeed, challenge the widely-shared view that David Cameron broke new ground by delivering it. This will be notably achieved by contrasting it with earlier key multiculturalism speeches delivered during the Blair-Brown era.
4Part two will analyse the impact of Cameron’s speech on the coalition, notably through Nick Clegg’s Luton speech, delivered one month later, while the conclusion will attempt to put the coalition’s integration record into a broader ideological perspective.
- 1 Jason Groves, “'We need to be a lot less tolerant towards Islamic extremists': Cameron calls for (...)
5Two key ‘multiculturalism’ speeches delivered under New Labour immediately come to one’s mind when trying to compare Cameron’s address with earlier ones: Tony Blair’s Press Conference on 5 August 2005 (almost a month after the London bombings) and the speech he delivered under the aegis of the Runnymede Trust on 8 December 2006, about six months before leaving office. The actual content of the speech delivered by Cameron seems so similar to what Tony Blair said five or six years before, that one may wonder why the Munich address received so much media attention and why it was presented as ground-breaking by the popular Conservative press (the Daily Mail, for example, called it ‘a major departure from Labour’s softly-softly approach’1). Indeed, passages of the Munich speech and of previous speeches by the former Labour Prime Minister seem perfectly interchangeable:
6Likewise, the Conservative press underlined the Prime Minister’s determination to be much more cautious than in the past when granting public subsidies to Muslim organisations. But there again, although this aspect of the Munich speech targeted more generally the former government’s Prevent strategy, it can hardly be described as novel, given the resemblance it bears to a passage of Tony Blair’s 2005 Press Conference:
7The Prime Minister’s remarks on forced marriage are another case in point, as they are consistent with Ann Cryer’s long standing - and most often, brave - campaign for Muslim women’s rights:
8Indeed, as early as 1999, i.e. two years before the framing of ‘community cohesion’ by the Cantle Panel3, Ann Cryer lambasted those, among her constituents, who perpetuated the “cruel practice of making their girls go back to Pakistan to marry first cousins or those to whom their family owe a favour.” 4
9David Cameron’s strong indictment of multiculturalism even echoes some views expressed by ‘Jacobin-minded’ Labourites, such as those voiced by Trevor Phillips, who back in 2004, headed the Commission for Racial Equality:
- 5 The fact that David Cameron talked about the failure of ‘State multiculturalism’ is another intere (...)
State multiculturalism5 has failed. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values. (Cameron, 2011).
- 6 Andrew Anthony, ‘Multiculturalism is dead. Hurrah?’, The Guardian, Thursday 8 April 2004 http://w (...)
Multiculturalism suggests separateness. We are in a different world from the 70s.6 […] Britain should reach an integrated society, one in which people are equal under the law, where there are some common values. (Phillips, 2004)
10Last but not least, David Cameron’s views are reminiscent of those expressed in a 2005 speech by one David Cameron, the then shadow Education Secretary, in which he likened Muslim extremists to Nazis: “Just like the Nazis of 1930s Germany, they want to purge corrupt cosmopolitan influences.”7
11So, although the views expressed by David Cameron won him tabloid attention and praise, the actual content of his Munich speech amounts, to a vast extent, to yesterday’s news.
- 8 The current under-Secretary of State for Community Cohesion is Liberal-Democrat Andrew Stunell.
- 9 The previous government’s counter-radicalisation strategy, also known as PVE, for Preventing Viole (...)
- 10 Andy Strange, ‘Prevent 2.0 means money for Luton – but who is winning the argument within Governme (...)
12Unsurprisingly that sense of continuity is matched by the Coalition’s actual integration policies.Thus, although much criticised since the formation of the current government, the cohesion and, to a lesser extent, the security agenda framed under Labour has more or less survived. ‘Community cohesion’ has obviously not been discarded.8 Despite the harsh conclusions of the review of Prevent9 announced by Home Secretary Theresa May in June 2011, the new governmental strategy against extremism, which has been dubbed ‘Prevent version 2.0’10 will not differ so fundamentally from that devised by Labour. It will be an improved, less controversial version of it, but like Prevent 1, it will consist in engaging with moderate Muslim organisations.
- 11 Ian Dunt, "ID cards by the backdoor?", politics.co.uk, Sunday 6 June 2010, http://www.politics.co. (...)
- 12 The NO2ID Campaign, ‘Stop the database state’, http://www.no2id.net (retrieved on October 3, 2011)
- 13 ‘We're making sure that anyone studying a degree-level course has a proper grasp of the English la (...)
13Besides, despite the abolition of identity cards by the Identity Documents Act 2010 (which repealed the Identity Cards Act 2006), the government has maintained the database for foreigners, which has survived until now11, contradicting the Coalition’s promise to ‘roll back the database state’.12 Finally, concerning the importance of mastering the English language, the objective set out in an immigration speech delivered by the Prime Minister two months after his Munich address is also in keeping with the efforts of the Blair and Brown governments with regard to that issue, although the Coalition government has stricter standards, notably for students.13
14On many occasions New Labour governments had to face divisions and dissent within their own majority (or indeed, within the Cabinet) over a number of migration, integration, defence and security-related issues. Well-known examples include:
15Despite those complications, both Blair and Brown somehow managed to keep their majority together, although, logically enough, things deteriorated towards the end of the thirteen years of New Labour rule. One may therefore wonder what will become of the Coalition, owing to its inherent hybrid nature, which on volatile political issues such as immigration and integration, may well lead - and already has led - to tensions between the Tory and the Lib-Dem elements of the current government.
16Unlike what has been assumed this side of the Channel, David Cameron’s speech certainly created a stir within the majority. First, the speech did not go down well with the Lib-Dem rank-and-file, as shown in the article posted on Strange Thoughts, an influential political blog managed by Andy Strange, an elected Lib-Dem councillor at Luton, who defines himself as a ‘Lutonian, Liberal activist and occasional geek.’ One week after the Prime Ministerial speech, Andy Strange published an unambiguous article entitled “Cameron is wrong: multiculturalism has worked”. Among other things, Andy Strange blamed Cameron for delivering a speech with an obvious ‘déjà vu’ feel to it, as well as for his propensity to mix seemingly unrelated things:
- 16 Andy Strange, “Cameron is wrong: multiculturalism has worked”, Strange Thoughts, 12th February 20 (...)
It demonstrates a worryingly high level of prime ministerial ignorance. It is useful to be reminded that one of the key differences between Liberals and Conservatives, as J. S. Mill would readily have pointed out, is that Tories tend to be more stupid. At the heart of the stupidity of the speech is that it seeks to confuse the complex bundle of issues that is extremism, radicalisation, and home grown terrorist activity with the more general issue of community cohesion.16
17In addition to these remarks, Strange underlined the carelessness of the timing of Cameron’s speech, which took place simultaneously with an English Defence League march in Luton:
At the same time as I was witnessing how the people of Luton had been excluded from their own town centre by the EDL, David Cameron was making a speech in Munich that was reported as declaring that “multiculturalism had failed”.At the time I felt, as did a number of other people I spoke to, that by making this speech on the same day as the EDL rally, and with no words of condemnation of the EDL’s extremism, Cameron had insulted Luton, Britain’s Muslim community, and all those who want a tolerant society free from discrimination. I was really quite angry about it. At that moment it would have been easy to agree with Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, who accused the PM of “writing propaganda for the EDL.”17
- 18 Toby Helm, Matthew Taylor and Rowenna Davis, “David Cameron sparks fury from critics who say attac (...)
- 19 He was clear about that, at least : “Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over (...)
18As a matter of fact, as underlined by The Guardian, for example18, the Prime Minister ignored white or other forms of extremism, which had not been the case, for example, in earlier ‘multiculturalism speeches’ by Tony Blair. Indeed, in his address, David Cameron presented a wrong interpretation of Islam19 virtually as the only real plausible source of extremism and terrorism in Britain – and in Europe. Northern Ireland aside, other forms of white extremism, such as the Islamophobia displayed by the British National Party and the English Defence League were absent from the speech. That omission and, more generally, the overall content of Cameron’s speech, was to lead to one of the most significant skirmishes within the coalition so far, i.e. the speech delivered by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in Luton on 3 March 2011, i.e. almost exactly a month after Cameron’ controversial address.
- 20 Allegra Stratton, 'Nick Clegg distances himself from David Cameron on violent extremism', The Guar (...)
- 21 Oliver Wright, 'Multicultural society row splits Clegg and Cameron', The Independent, Friday 4 Mar (...)
- 22 Andy Strange, ‘Reactions to Nick Clegg’s speech on multiculturalism’, Strange Thoughts; 8 March, 20 (...)
- 23 Tom Newton Dunn, ‘Nick Clegg in race war with PM’, The Sun, 4 March, 2011.
19Nick Clegg’s speech, entitled ‘An Open, Confident Society: The Application of Muscular Liberalism in a Multicultural Society’, attracted loads of national press attention, both from quality and tabloid newspapers. The Guardian for example, published an article entitled ‘Nick Clegg distances himself from David Cameron on violent extremism’.20The Independent shared on the whole that analysis, with ‘Multicultural society row splits Clegg and Cameron’.21 Meanwhile, The Sun’s title was consistent with its universally acclaimed nuanced style22: ‘Nick Clegg in race war with PM’.23
20In fact, the speech (which was actually drafted, at least partly by Richard Reeves, who until recently worked for Demos, a leading, Labour-leaning think tank and research institute), though seemingly smooth and consensual, was a sharp, fundamental indictment of Cameron’s speech. Indeed, rhetorical devises meant to emphasise convergences rather than disagreements with David Cameron were to be found throughout the speech:
The Prime Minister has recently argued that we need to assert confidently our liberal values. I agree. […] That is why I think the PM was absolutely right to make his argument for muscular liberalism.
21The very fact that it was delivered in Luton may be seen as an implicit but clear criticism of the Prime Minister’s decision not to mention either the EDL or other white extremist groups in his speech, as rightly underlined by many analysts, who noted that if it took Clegg almost a month to respond to Cameron’s speech it was obviously because an immediate, energetic Lib-Dem response in Luton would have been perceived as a provocation by Clegg’s Conservative allies. Now, looking deeper into the Luton speech, one cannot but be struck by three fundamental disagreements between Clegg and Cameron. First, a disagreement on the very definition and interpretation of ‘multiculturalism’. As shown earlier, Cameron’s view of multiculturalism or ‘state multiculturalism’, as he calls it, is essentially a negative one, which he holds responsible for the divisions affecting British society. Clegg, instead, defines it positively, broadening its meaning in a typically Liberal way, which, by contrast, makes Cameron’s views sound rather narrow-minded. Above all, unlike David Cameron, he does not describe it as moribund but rather, as having a role to fulfil in post 9/11 Britain:
Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values. (Cameron’s Munich speech)
For me, multiculturalism has to be 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. And the cultures in a multicultural society are not just ethnic or religious. Many of the cultural issues of the day cut right across these boundaries: gay rights; the role of women; identities across national borders; differing attitudes to marriage; the list goes on. Cultural disagreements are much more complex than much of the debate implies. If you will forgive the phrase, they are not quite so black and white. (Clegg’s Luton speech)
22Then, the second major disagreement has to do with a key (albeit somewhat obscure) concept developed by Cameron in his Munich, speech, ‘muscular liberalism’, which he contrasted with the supposedly ‘passive tolerance’ associated with multiculturalism. On the other hand, through his own definition of ‘muscular liberalism’ Clegg, as a Lib-Dem, makes a point of reminding the Prime Minister that liberalism is all about dialogue and debate, not authoritative persuasion:
Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone […] But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. (Cameron’s Munich speech)
Liberalism is not a passive, inert approach to politics. It requires engagement, assertion. Muscular liberals flex their muscles in open argument. There is nothing relativist about liberalism. If we are truly confident about the strength of our liberal values we should be confident about their ability to defeat the inferior arguments of our opponents. (Clegg’s Luton speech)
23Eventually, the third major disagreement between Clegg and Cameron has to do with the question of extremism, which Clegg, unlike Cameron, does not reduce to Muslim extremism, broadening the definition to encompass Islamophobic members of the EDL and of the BNP, which were not mentioned in Cameron’s speech:
The enemies of liberty are those people who have closed their minds, closed off the possibility that there may be other valid ways to live, other than their own […] There are nationalistic or racist extremists, like the members of the English Defence League, or the BNP. There are black extremists like the Nation of Islam. There are Muslim extremists like the members of Islam 4 UK. Very often these groups have a symbiotic relationship with each other, maintained by the media: extremist Muslim groups giving birth to extremist white hate groups, and vice versa. (Clegg’s Luton speech)
24Similarly, new fractures within the Coalition appeared during the spring, following the immigration speech delivered by David Cameron on 14 April 2011 before a Conservative audience (i.e. as head of the Conservatives, not as Prime Minister), owing to a controversial passage in particular:
- 24 ‘To please Tories, make a mainstream immigration policy sound tougher than it is’, The Economist, (...)
For too long immigration has been to high. Between 1997 and 2009, 2.2 million more people came to live in this country than left to live abroad […] and it has placed real pressures on communities up and down the country. Not just pressures on schools, housing and healthcare […] but social pressures too […] that [have] created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods.24 (Cameron’s immigration speech, April 2011)
- 25 ‘To please Tories, make a mainstream immigration policy sound tougher than it is’, Bagehot’s noteb (...)
- 26 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13072509 (quoted in ‘To please Tories, make a mainstream immi (...)
- 27 James Chapman,'Minister who dares to speak the truth: IDS exposes Cabinet tension, warning the maj (...)
25Vince Cable, the Lib-Dem Business Secretary described Cameron’s speech as ‘very unwise’, likely ‘to inflame extremism on immigration’25. In a BBC interview Cameron later responded that his speech had been ‘measured’, adding : “We have a very good and robust policy and this is the policy of the whole government. This policy is Lib Dem policy. This policy is coalition policy.”26During the summer, other polemics arose. First, following what Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Ducan Smith said about young British workers not being given a fair chance ‘because businesses will continue to look elsewhere to fill their posts’.27
- 28 ‘Riots: Coalition split over tough stance of courts’, Daily Telegraph, 17 August 2011. http://www. (...)
26Then, obviously, another bone of contention stemmed from the government’s strong law-and-order response to the London riots (which, unlike early analyses suggested, were not ethnic riots), which went down badly with Lib-Del activists, some of whom emphasised, alongside civil liberty groups and lawyers ‘that the punishments were damaging the reputation of the criminal justice system’.28
- 29 Jamie Doward, ‘David Cameron's attack on multiculturalism divides the coalition’, The Observer, Su (...)
27There have also been fractures within both parties, notably within Conservatives between ‘hard liners’ on immigration and multiculturalism and those with a more multicultural outlook, such as Baroness Warsi, the Tory party chairwoman. Tensions actually appeared months before Cameron’s speech, when the government pressurised Baroness Warsi into not attending the Muslim Global Peace and Unity conference in east London, owing to the alleged presence of ‘Islamist sympathisers’.29
- 30 « Conservative party conference: counting on Cameron », guardian.co.uk, Sunday 2 October 2011. http (...)
28The Munich speech and initiatives regarding integration policies seem, on the whole, to be in keeping with the cohesion strategies devised under Labour rule. Although rhetorically, they do sound ‘muscular’, they are comparatively mainstream, although their effect has certainly been compounded by the budgetary situation, as shown in the summer’s riots, which illustrated the impact of brutal cuts in public spending on inner city youths, regardless of their ethnic background. Cameron’s seemingly uncompromising ideas on politically volatile issues such as multiculturalism and Islam may be seen as an attempt to mobilise his electorate. Indeed, the possibility that certain Conservative sympathisers may be tempted to swell the ranks of non-voters seems to be taken more seriously than the possibility of seeing certain Conservative voters turn to the BNP. Indeed, although Cameron’s and the Conservatives’ popularity ratings have improved recently, last year’s general election illustrated their inability to run the country on their own.30
29 The Lib-Dems’ political situation seems much more uncertain. Vince Cable and Nick Clegg aside, they are marginalised within the Cabinet. Nick Clegg’s popularity ratings have dropped steadily since the general election. He has been clearly further marginalised since May 2011’s poor performance in the local election and the rejection of the Lib-Dems’ proposed reform of the voting system. Whether Clegg’s liberal positions will manage to woo back Lib-Dem voters remains to be seen, as progressive and young Lib-Dems have been rather disillusioned since the formation of the coalition.
- 31 Patrick Wintour & Nicholas Watt, « David Cameron to urge households to pay off debts », The Guardi (...)
30Political considerations aside, the sense of continuity between the coalition government and New Labour governments that have been highlighted throughout this article was underlined by Stuart Hall in October 2011. He actually suggests that the current policies are the outcome of a long, consistent ‘march of the neo-liberals’. Hall argues that the move towards ‘the dismantling of the tyrannical state’ actually started under Thatcher and has intensified under all governments ever since, whether Conservative, New Labour or the current Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition. The budgetary situation and the urge for households and the State alike ‘to pay off debts’ reasserted at the 2011 Conservative Conference in Manchester31, certainly have impacted negatively on social issues, as shown in August 2011 in inner cities, where under-funded libraries, swimming pools, or community centres) will soon be either privatised or disappear altogether. The current financial and economic crisis, whose extent cannot be denied, may have been used by the government as an excuse to accelerate that process, or in Hall’s words, ‘to legislate into effect a new political settlement.’