Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Cameron clueless on liberalism

Our prime minister, David Cameron,  claims that "We must be more assertive  about our liberal values."  To this end Muslim women who don't speak English are to be given lessons and, if they don't comply, they are to be deported.  This will be the case, if I heard the interview on BBC's"Today" programme correctly yesterday  morning, even if they have been here long enough to have had children here, and their children speak English.

Way back in 2007 ago Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash   defined liberalism as 

"a quest for the greatest possible measure  of individual human freedom, compatible with the freedom of others."

In short: "live and let live," providing you're not harming others' freedom to do the same.  The whole article is very pertinent to the present nonsense and is well worth a read.

Given Garton Ash's helpful definition , it is hard to see how  a minority of Muslim women who fail, or can't be bothered, to learn English, are acting outside our Liberal values, and they certainly don't merit this draconian threat. I suspect a good many of English-speaking  emigrants to the sunny coasts of Spain are in the same situation , and would be very upset if  the Spanish government threatened them similarly.

Yes, it would be nice, and socially cohesive, if immigrants to our country accommodated to our society, and I suspect the overwhelming majority of them do. How far his "accommodation" should go is a matter for debate.

But Cameron's intervention into an area of some delicacy generates recreations of both rage (indignation  is not strong enough) and disgust.

Cameron, product of the public relations industry, is a master of the craft of saying one thing whilst doing another. So rage because his is the government that has both specifically cut public spending on English for Speakers of of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, and has starved  and continues to starve the Further Education (FE)sector, the main provider of these classes, of funding. ( Education expenditure is supposed to be "protected " from cuts, but this "protection" applies only for eduction  up to the age of sixteen.  FE colleges and Sixth From colleges are all suffering from cuts.)

 Bradford is one of the areas where the figure of one in five  Muslim women not having competence in English is probably correct (the national rate is about 6%, or nearer one in twenty).  The staff of the FE college there are incensed at Cameron's intervention when they consider how their ESOL provision has been reduced over the past few years as a direct result of government policies.

But we must also ask why Cameron has intervened in this issue in such a high profile manner, or even at all. If the government has realised that the cuts in  ESOL provision are an error, then there is a Secretary of State for Education, and even a Minister of State, a Nick Boles, specifically responsible for Further Education and Skills, who could quietly and constructively have reversed the policy, restoring and even increasing  provision of ESOL classes for all who need then, and not just Muslim women.

It is hard to avoid the suspicion that Cameron is indulging in "dog whistle" politics, to appeal to he lowest and meanest instincts of the electorate: "We know that you don't like foreigners, especially those with different coloured skins and different religions.  So we'll get tough on them, as far as our veneer of political correctness allows. No need for UKIP: you can rely on us to sort them out."

There is nothing liberal about Cameron's intervention.  Rather it is politics in its lowest form:  a reversion  to the "nasty party" of Michael Howard and "Are you thinking what we're thinking?"  Cameron has brought shame on himself, his party and our country.


  1. According to the BBC web site at, Cameron didn't threaten deportation, but said that should they fail a test, "they can't guarantee that they'll be able to stay" - which is not a great deal better and indeed raises questions of who will take the decision about deportation, on what criteria, etc. It would also be interesting to know who will run these tests, how many people will take them, what standard they will be expected to achieve. What's the betting none of it happens, because it is, as you say, pure dog whistle politics ?

    1. Thanks for that correction. I was writing from memory. As you say, the actual words are not quite so draconian, though not by much. On the other issues you raise, the practicalities make the whole scenario highly improbable. This is the politics of the sound-bite: "We're on your (UKIP - supporters) side"