Linda Jack writes: Nick Clegg – demonstrating what he’s for

Yesterday evening, at an event to celebrate the “ennoblement” of Lord Qurban Hussain I was reminded of the heady days of the leader’s debates when Nick Clegg totally caught the imagination of the country. The Chiltern Hotel in Luton was packed and there was a palpable sense of excitement and genuine warmth towards Nick. Those from minority communities in this country understand the integrity of Nick’s position when he talks about multiculturalism- no fancy words – just a history of putting his money where his mouth is.

Earlier in the day Nick had chosen Luton as the place to make his speech on multiculturalism, which while not directly criticising Cameron, made it clear that there was plenty of clear blue water between them. I was personally delighted – having attended the English Defence League and Luton Love Music Hate Racism rallies on the same day Cameron made his ignorant and ill informed speech I was frustrated that no-one from the party spoke out at the time. Nick being a lot less accessible than he used to be it was Simon Hughes who got the full force of my angst. I was assured that this would be picked up and have to welcome the fact that he chose to come to Luton to do so.

Nick put down a clear marker about where he parts company with Cameron:

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.

– in marked contrast to Cameron –

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.

Both during his speech last night and earlier in the day Nick stressed the importance of shared values as the starting point for a cohesive society. Having spent most of my youth work career in diverse communities it was a very difficult lesson for me to learn, that actually all our values aren’t shared.

Sometimes this is because we have different interpretations, for example of what we mean by equality, sometimes purely because we just have a different world view. I used to have a colleague who would say “we need to be tight on values and then we can be loose on everything else – all too often we are tight on everything else and loose on values” how true!

So while I totally agree with Nick about shared values I do believe we have a responsibility to articulate exactly what we mean. It wasn’t easy for those of us working to empower young women in the Muslim community only to see them come up against real resistance at home or in the wider community. Some would argue the treatment of women in some parts of the Muslim community can’t be challenged because it is “cultural” – sorry no. It is at this interface where we have to stop pretending – if someone thinks it is OK to restrict a person’s opportunities because of their gender – this has to be challenged. And let’s not be deceived, there are plenty of Christian churches up and down the country where women are not allowed in leadership – most starkly demonstrated in the row over women bishops. But that assumption of shared values doesn’t just apply to religion or culture – do we honestly think we have the same understanding of equality as the Tories?

Nick also touched on the thorny issue of home grown terrorism and extremism, but unlike Cameron put this in the context not just of Islam but also the BNP and EDL, a far more balanced approach. As he recognised:

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. They believe they have discovered the prescription for how to live – which everyone should follow. Closed minds can lead to closed communities, to extremism, and in some cases to violence.

And he urges us all to take the argument to the extremists – from wherever they come – recognising the importance of engaging at every opportunity:

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. Smart engagement means engaging in argument at public events, where appropriate and at the right level. Of course these are always difficult decisions to make. But to take one example, the Global Peace and Unity conference attracts around fifty thousand British Muslims each year and is an important opportunity to engage in argument – and so Andrew Stunell, the Government’s Communities Minister did this year. Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, also spoke at the event.

Now there may well have been a small minority of organisations and individuals at that event with deeply unpalatable, illiberal views. But 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.

And he goes on to make the equally valid point that we must challenge behaviour and attitudes that are at variance with an open free and equal society be they from the right wing thugs, or parents who think it is OK to force their daughter into marriage, or think “honour” killing is OK. He rightly observes that we sometimes use “tolerance” as a cover for the fear of challenging what may be seen as a cultural issue.

I have to say that having read his speech and then heard him speak last night I was reminded of what I so admire about Nick.

OK, I disagree with so much of what he has become party to, particularly those things that fly in the face of our commitment to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society – but the man is still a true and committed liberal when it comes to these fundamental issues – and he is brave enough to take a stand and demonstrate his unshakeable belief in a multicultural society where diversity is celebrated and division and bigotry is challenged.

It is his approach rather than Cameron’s that will make Luton and all other proud multicultural towns and cities up and down this country – better and more cohesive communities. So to those detractors who have been asking what Nick Clegg is for…….here is your answer!

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18 Comments

  • Marc Fairclough 4th Mar '11 - 4:47pm

    A powerful piece. Fundamentally, Clegg hasn’t changed since those heady days of tv debates. He still represents, and stands up for, and eloquently expresses much which is good, and right, and proper. Sadly, in politics as in life, those who can spout insults and witty (sic) remarks about ‘selling out’ or lying with nothing to truly offer their community or country are seen in some circles as being a better option than those who are fighting for the true greater good, and are in media circles seen to be winning the argument. We must continue to fight the good fight, irrespective of polls, positions and by-elections…

  • Jonathan Hunt 4th Mar '11 - 6:33pm

    Take away all the non-white and Muslim people in the UK, and we Anglo-Saxons and Celts still have the capaity to create many of the problems ofmulticulturalism Cameron ascribles to Islam.

    Most Brits and Irish remember when terrorism and violence was much more effective– thanks to the IRA. And that followed years of Prots beating, bullying and dicriminating against Papists, so that Catholics were forced into retalitory action.

    It is a lesson we should learn before further perscution of Muslims forces them into a similar position.

    Thanks, Nick, for speaking out in favour of truly Liberal attitudes to multiculturalism.

    Don’t hold back for so long in future.

  • @ Jonathan Hunt

    “It is a lesson we should learn before further perscution of Muslims forces them into a similar position.”

    Sadly, I have to disagree very strongly. As a gay man I view the very rapidly rising numbers of muslims in this country with nothing other than alarm and preoccupation for my own human rights and future.

    In a recent opinion poll in 2009, 100% of Muslims said that homosexuality was “unacceptable”, vastly more than the population as a whole. In areas where there is a large muslim population, particularly in the East End of London, attacks on gay people by young muslim men are becoming a regular phenomenon. . Muslims recently mounted a campaign in the area with posters describing it as a “gay free zone”. Attacks on gay people are also becoming more frequent in other cities, for instance Amsterdam.

    So, sorry, but I have to disagree with your apparently view of the current situation. Multiculturalism is becoming a direct potential threat to my wellbeing and to my human rights and something definitely needs to change.

  • Simon McGrath 4th Mar '11 - 9:27pm

    Great piece Linda. Much more like this and Ed Miliband will through you off the Labour Committees you are on….

  • @RC

    “As a gay man I view the very rapidly rising numbers of muslims in this country with nothing other than alarm and preoccupation for my own human rights and future.”

    As a gay man I view your simplistic ‘all Muslims are nasty homophobes’ argument as offensive and reductionist. As someone who grew up in the East End, and has friends who are Muslim and, shock horror, some who are gay and Muslim, I understand, unlike you apparently, that issues of religion, culture and sexuality are complex. Last year some white gay friends of mine were forced to move because of homophobic persecution by their white neighbours in Barking, at the same time some of my Muslim friends in Tower Hamlets have been going round attempting to remove the homophobic posters that you refer to – how does that fit in with your anti-Islamic worldview?

  • @ Peter

    You fail to explain the finding that 100% of Muslims polled found homosexuality “unacceptable” – quite how your innate sexual orientation over which you have no choice could be “unacceptable” I don’t know, but there you are. Doesn’t that provide some rather clear, concrete evidence that, whatever you might like to believe and whatever your personal experience, the vast majority of Muslims don’t think gay people have the right to exist. I too know people (person, actually) who are muslim and gay friendly, but evidently that they are in a tiny, statistically insignificant minority compared to the vast majority who are (according to anecdotal and polling evidence) prejudiced. If there is this large, moderate muslim population of multiculturalists’ dreams, somehow they managed to completely evade this poll, published in the Guardian in 2009:

    Muslims in Britain have zero tolerance of homosexuality, says poll
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/may/07/muslims-britain-france-germany-homosexuality

    Your attitude is typical of some ideologically driven people: when there is direct and concrete evidence that runs against your beliefs, you ignore it and shout down your opponents as “offensive and reductionist”. Well, I’m sorry if reality is “offensive” but maybe you should start adjusting your mindset to accommodate the real world rather than going into denial about it.

    Oh, and just because your gay friends were forced to move because of white homophobia, why does it make the problem of homophobia from other groups any less unpleasant. Your logic there is a little strange. Gay people have spent decades fighting against white homophobia – we know what it looks like – and we don’t want it emerging from any other group in society, thank you very much.

  • @ Peter

    Even some well known left of centre commentators have woken up to this growing and serious problem, despite attempts by people, presumably holding the same convictions as yourself, to ignore and downplay it:

    Johann Hari
    Can we talk about Muslim homophobia now?

    http://johannhari.com/2011/02/25/can-we-talk-about-muslim-homophobia-now

  • ‘do we honestly think we have the same understanding of equality as the Tories?’

    Problem is though that arguments about equality and culture are not really the same thing. They have been conflated by what some call the ‘identity industry’ over the past decade – but they to my mind are not the same. Equality is about taking positive steps to mitigate the material disadvantage faced by people due to a priori moral condemnation. To take an example of this thread, if gay people are facing material disadvantage due to the view of religious dogma, said dogma must be challenged. Similarly if my wife (from Eastern Europe) is disadvantaged because people don’t like her accent, that too should be challenged on an equality basis.

    Multiculturalism, rightly or wrongly, has become about the ‘promotion’ of so-called identities. and – rightly or wrongly, I make no value judgment – some feel that things have been somewhat rammed down their throats.

    Reducing this to a them and us political party partisan argument seems to miss the point somewhat.

  • Patrick Smith 5th Mar '11 - 7:58pm

    Total agreement with the tenor of Linda`a critique and uphold her sentiments entirely with her resonated support for NC`s speech `as someone having read his speech…I was reminded of what I so admire about Nick’.

    Before making comments I wish more would take the trouble to read speeches by Nick Clegg and check on his delivery as he undoubtedly stands taller as a `true and committed Liberal’ is best equipped with the know-how to lead Britain into the open and freer society over the next 5 years, that is desired.

    Nick Clegg remains,as ever, a beacon and icon in Liberal Leadership.

    However,my caveat, is that the ability to listen to those insisting that `the vulnerable and disadvantaged’ must remain at the heart of Liberal Democrat policy and to ensure that Bankers are made to pay their share are as equal to all core values in government.

  • Simon McGrath 6th Mar '11 - 8:48am

    @Patrick – you dont think the 64% tax on bankers bonuses is enough?

  • Old Codger Chris 6th Mar '11 - 12:49pm

    I sympathise with the gay community’s fears. And Jonathan Hunt has pointed out the root cause of Irish terrorism.

    Religion, eh? It’s only taken 2000 years for Christians to stop pointing the finger – and much worse – at Jews.

  • Mr Clegg hasn’t changed since the General Election??? Where have some of you people been?
    Who gave you any mandate whatsoever?????? YET
    You are agreeing to the wrecking of the NHS
    You are assisting with the dismanteling of state education
    you are partners with the conservatives in smashing local government
    you have just managed to beat the monster raving loony party and scrape 4%in the Barnsley by election, the wretched Conservatives couldnt do anything without your support……who would have thought that the once proud Liberal Party could ever be now called Thatcherite

  • Jonathan Hunt 6th Mar '11 - 8:39pm

    I am only too aware of many so-called Christian people making life difficult for gay people, and even solid Yorkshire voices advising gays to leave the bigoted back streets of Barnsley.

    But am not aware of Muslim people taking action against non-Muslim homosexuals. I may have lived a sheltered life, so would like to see some evidence, please.

  • Leviticus18_23 6th Mar '11 - 8:46pm

    Good speech. Costs nothing, requires no action and no funding.

    I think the recent 4% effort shows how most people are starting to feel about Clegg.

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