I need to take a deep breath before writing this but (gulp) David Cameron has actually said something sensible. Speaking at a debate hosted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Tory leader said the following:
For too long we've caved in to more extreme elements by hiding under the cloak of cultural sensitivity. For too long we've given in to the loudest voices from each community, without listening to what the majority want. And for too long, we've come to ignore differences - even if they fly in the face of human rights, notions of equality and child protection - with a hapless shrug of the shoulders, saying, 'It's their culture isn't it? Let them do what they want'.
And in a reference to the recent row involving the Archbishop of Canterbury he added:
The reality is that the introduction of sharia law for Muslims is actually the logical endpoint of the now discredited doctrine of state multiculturalism, seeing people merely as followers of certain religions rather than individuals in their own right within a common community.
Even the most sceptical listener would be hard put to interpret this as the usual coded Conservative race-speak: and in fact, the Commission's chair, Trevor Phillips, recently praised Cameron for attempting to 'deracialise the issue of immigration'.
I still believe that Cameron's conversion from Hooray-Henry Thatcherite to centrist liberal is skin-deep, and it would be easy to dismiss this intervention as tactical - just words. But to quote Barack Obama (quoting Deval Patrick): Don't tell me words don't matter. In public discussion of issues of 'race', the fact that the Tories have moved from nativist rhetoric to a discourse of equality and rights should be warmly welcomed. And it would be good to hear politicians of the left making the same kind of criticisms of communalism and segregation, and speaking up in similar terms for universal human rights.