“Until only a few months ago, mainstream British politicians were extremely cautious about articulating the fears and resentments felt by many ordinary people on the subject of mass immigration. Those who spoke out publicly (Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech is the notorious example) were ostracised. Political parties which raised the issue were thrust beyond the outer margins of debate – the fate of the National Front and the BNP. This self-restraint has now vanished. Practically every day for the past two weeks, another minister has insulted the customs, habits or religious beliefs of Britain’s Muslim minority….
“It is now clear that Jack Straw’s comments on women who wear the veil were not, as seemed likely at the time, the result of some random rumination. He surely set out with the intention of putting in motion a national campaign. In other words, Labour has made the extraordinary decision to place the politics of religious identity at the centre of public discourse, in the same sort of way that Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party does in Austria and Pim Fortuyn’s List Party did in the Netherlands….
“There is a whiff of the lynch mob about the wave of attacks over the past fortnight, and it is no surprise to learn that the new national mood sparked by Jack Straw and sanctioned by Tony Blair has indeed led to a number of assaults on British mosques, including one firebombing. There have also been reports of a sharp rise of physical assaults on Muslims. It is nothing short of appalling that the Blair government has been ready to countenance this change in public culture….
“In the wake of last year’s London atrocity, the Prime Minister promised to engage with the mainstream Muslim community. He never really tried to do so – the ‘working parties’ set up in the wake of the July bombings met just two or three times, they were not listened to, and their recommendations were ignored.
“Now Tony Blair has allowed a campaign that is bound to undermine moderate Muslims and encourage extremism, whether from white supremacist parties like the BNP or within Islam itself. It is quite the nastiest and most irresponsible politics I have seen from a mainstream political party in my life, and we will all pay a horrible price for such cynical opportunism.”
Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail, 21 October 2006