UK Politics

Nick Clegg sets out vision of multiculturalism

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Media captionWatch: Deputy PM Nick Clegg: "Closed minds can lead to closed communities"

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has set out his vision of what multiculturalism means in a speech in Luton.

He backed David Cameron over the need to end "segregation" of communities.

But, in contrast to the prime minister, Mr Clegg stressed in his speech the importance of multiculturalism to "an open, confident, society".

Mr Cameron grabbed headlines around the world with his call last month for an end to "state multiculturalism".

Labour accused the government of showing a "lack of clarity" on the issue.

In a speech in Luton, Mr Clegg said the prime minister was "absolutely right to make his argument for 'muscular liberalism'", and "to assert confidently our liberal values".

But he also attempted to strike a different tone to the prime minister on the issue of multiculturalism.

He said: "Where multiculturalism is held to mean more segregation, other communities leading parallel lives, it is clearly wrong. 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.

"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."

'Living in silos'

Downing Street said Mr Cameron stood by his speech last month, in which he said "state multiculturalism has failed", but the prime minister's official spokesman said it was a "complicated issue" and an "important debate".

He said Mr Clegg had shown his speech to Mr Cameron ahead of his visit to Luton.

Mr Clegg said that, as leaders of different political parties, "we come at some of these issues from different directions".

But he added: "We completely agree that if multiculturalism means communities living in silos - separately from each other, never communicating, with no shared sense of belonging then we are both completely against it. That is utterly, utterly wrong.

"But if your understanding of multiculturalism, the meaning of that word, is actually quite the reverse, that it is a means by which we can communicate with each other, seek to reach understanding of each other, share a similar set of values... that's the antithesis of the cardboard cut-out definition of multiculturalism.

"It's that move towards integration."

He said he deliberately chose to make his speech in Luton, which has been associated with both the Islamist al Muhajiroun group and the English Defence League, which campaigns against radical Islam.

But the Liberal Democrat leader said the Bedfordshire town was also the home of some of the "most vibrant" campaigns against racism, extremism, and Islamophobia.

He acknowledged that the current economic situation could tip some people who were currently ambivalent about such issues into more extreme views.

But he attacked past approaches to tackling violent extremism, which he claimed had an "exclusive and unhelpful focus on Islam", arguing intolerance of all kinds should be challenged by "muscular liberals".

'Must engage'

"By treating Muslim communities and organisations as homogenous lumps to be variously hectored, preached at, showered with praise and money, or ignored, the previous government created negative perceptions among British Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

"We should ensure that public funds do not support any organisations promoting violence. We must engage with religious organisations in a smart way focusing our attention on those that support our essential liberal values.

"We will also challenge extremism across the board, ending the previous government's exclusive and unhelpful focus on Islam. It does not matter if you are a far-right extremist, someone who perverts a religious faith, or someone who uses violence in support of other ideological ends - we will challenge you, take you on and defeat you."

Mr Clegg said the government would shortly announce the outcome of its review of the previous government's Prevent programme, which was meant to combat violent extremism.

He said Prevent had "wasted a lot of money" and "stigmatised" Muslim communities and "made them feel like they were under suspicion".

For Labour, shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint said: "Nick Clegg's speech has exposed a lack of clarity at the top of government over its view of multiculturalism.

"The prime minister and his deputy appear to be making two different arguments, undermining the government's case and leaving the public confused."

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