A fundamental difference over multiculturalism could be the issue that breaks the coalitionby Philip Collins / March 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Nick Clegg meets pupils at Mauldeth Road School, Manchester. Multiculturalism, according to him, involves “respect and communication”
At Prime Minister’s Questions recently, for the first time in an age, something interesting happened. While the prime minister was busy explaining why the sky would fall in if the country consented to change the electoral system, behind him the deputy prime minister was pulling a face and vigorously shaking his head. The coalition has entered a new phase, in which open disagreement is permissible.
Clarity is one of the unfortunate casualties of coalition. Privately, the Lib Dems in government cannot abide the Tory themes of family, faith and flag. The Conservatives wish the Lib Dems would be quiet about immigration and Europe. Partly out of courtesy and partly out of political necessity, both sides have a tendency to delete those sections in their speeches. The values that animate their politics tend to go missing; the consequence is that coalition seems like an intellectually bloodless compromise.
The truth is that Lib Dems and Conservatives come from different, and in some ways opposing political traditions. There is enough intellectual overlap and political will to ensure the divergence does not open into a chasm into which the government will fall. But the differences still count and, as the coalition matures, they will open up, especially on issues like crime. The home office has been a quiet department during the first year of the coalition. This cannot last. It never does. If crime starts to climb there is no question that conservative and liberal impulses will pull the coalition in opposite directions. Along with the NHS, crime could be the issue that divides the Conservative from his Lib Dem partner.
The tension is already audible in the speeches of the two party leaders. Recently, in an address to a conference on terrorism in Munich, David Cameron veered strangely from the topic at hand to his critique of British multiculturalism. He was answered a few weeks later by Clegg who chose Luton as his backdrop, the town of the banned Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, the site of a recent march by the English Defence League and the place from which the 7/7 bombers departed for London. Naturally, the two speeches shared a lot and much good sense was said in the overlap. But the philosophical interest lies in the differences.
It was clear from Clegg’s words that…