Blair says veil is a mark of separation, Cruddas launches campaign

Tony Blair has said that the veil worn by many Muslim women in Britain is a “mark of separation” that makes people from other backgrounds feel uncomfortable. The Prime Minister came off the fence in the heated debate over Muslim customs by urging them to integrate more fully into British society. His remarks confirmed a significant shift in the Government’s thinking amid fears that its support for multiculturalism may have encouraged the growth of “parallel lives” that never meet.

At his monthly Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister was asked if a woman who wore the veil could make a full contribution to British society. He paused before replying: “That’s a very difficult question. It is a mark of separation and that’s why it makes other people from outside of the community feel uncomfortable.” He added he was not suggesting women should be ordered to remove their veils. “No one wants to say that people don’t have the right to do it, that’s to take it too far, but I think we do need to confront this issue about how we integrate people properly with our society,” he said.

Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, who will formally launch his campaign to become Labour’s next deputy leader today, will accuse ministers of playing “fast and loose” with religious tensions during the row. He will say: “The solution does not lie in an ever more muscular bidding war among politicians to demonstrate who can be tougher on migrants, asylum-seekers and minorities. Nor is it in using racial or religious symbols to create controversy. That only makes the situation worse. It is not the role of politicians to play fast and loose with symbols of difference, especially when they drive the political centre of gravity to the right as a consequence.”

Independent, 18 October 2006