Sunday, 6 February 2011

We and They...

 ... or how Cameron's empty rhetoric demonstrates just why choice of language and substance behind it, is something we must judge and hold our politicians accountable by. 

Yes everyone's least favourite Moomin David Cameron made a speech this weekend at the 47th annual Munich Security Conference, that has sparked quite an uproar. The issues, about the threat of terrorism and extremist behaviour, are as you can imagine, quite sensitive topics and were handled with all the grace and gentility of a hand gliding hippo. And just for good measure, the timing turned out to be such a magnificent balls up that it could have been a scene right out of The Thick of It, coming just hours before the EDL marched on Luton in an anti Islamic Extremist demonstration.

The speech was of course picked apart by the press and Cameron critics to reveal it's weaker, more contentious aspects. Do not image that the entirety actually involved Oswald Mosley style black shirting, with fatwa baiting, jihad taunting slurs, arms flapping, foaming at the mouth and much gnashing of teeth. It did not. Yet from what I've just written, I bet you were picturing what such a scenario would be like, even just for a second. You see that's the power of language, it inspires and creates, and can be used to great effect, both in the positive and the negative. So when Mr Cameron, the leader of the coalition, stands in front of the world and spouts, we pay attention to the language, terminologies and analogies he employs, both as a means of revealing his own agenda, but also to see what message he is sending to the rest of the world as a representative of this country.

And it really doesn't read well. I'm afraid to say that this man, who couldn't even get a country united enough against one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers in recent years, to vote him and his party into unshared government, is now lecturing on the need for a national unity in the face of 'failed multiculturalism'. And how does he go about this? A small excerpt;

"We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values."

In one sentence Mr Cameron has made harmful and counterproductive distinctions between segregated communities or 'they' as he so tactfully puts it, and 'we', what he later goes on to describe as the mainstream, and 'our values'. The language is alienating to say the least, talking as if the dreaded 'they' will not hear such utterances and assuming the like-mindedness of his audience.

But it goes so much deeper than this ham fisted language, which given it's tone was not surprisingly taken up that day by many EDL marchers as a sign of unity. There are startling failures in the speech in terms of content. At one point he speaks of the 'passive tolerance' of recent years. I can only assume he means the passive tolerance of New Labour, that saw some of the most regressive attacks on civil rights and freedoms in modern times all in the name of fighting extremism, and legislations which were opposed at the time by members of this coalition no less, on the grounds of civil liberties violations. Are we now to understand that these were too soft?

Then there's the sweeping assumptions that segregation leads to extremism and that extremism and forced marriage are intrinsically linked - to me Cameron's isolated and misplaced sentence on the issue of forced marriage in the midst of a speech on security, ignores the complexities of the issue and seems more like moral point scoring. Add to that the notion that there is such a thing as 'British values', that the mainstream is identifiable and attainable, all the while maintaining that there are problems with state sponsored multiculturalism and powerful segregation groups, but without going into any real specifics, and you have a speech that is holier than a nun at Easter.

Yet more importantly Cameron lacks real resolution; ensuring language attainment and National Citizen Service may sound nice, but this presumes that extremism is solely the responsibility of so called segregated community and reeks of assimilation rather than integration. In amongst the misrepresenting, the 'us and them' suggestiveness, are there solid plans to tackle poverty rates or immigration geography trends that one would assume lead to segregation (if of course this is even what causes extremism)? Not really, not unless you consider getting everyone in the country to hold hands at the proms to the chorus of Rule Britannia a plan, though even that might also be a slight issue Mr Cameron - as before you start on your venture into the Islamic community, you may well be wise to venture to Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, hell, even half the north of England, where I think you'll find very different versions of national identity and 'our' values.

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