Thursday, 4 March 2010

Who said apathy?

Today myself, Julia and Jude are all taking part in a hustings as part of a cultural diversity week being organised by Cornwall College.

Chris Price had asked us all to meet him outside the main reception at 2.15. At just after 2.15, I got a call as I was getting out of my car to check I was on the way. Anyone who has ever organised a political meeting knows that feeling - 15 minutes to go - where are they?!

We waited another ten minutes for the other two candidates who had actually gone straight to the lecture theatre - and there were concerns too about how many students would actually turn up. But concerns that there might be apathy among the students proved completely wrong.

The lecture theatre was packed with standing room only. Sometimes people say that young people don't care about politics but this group certainly did. There were searching questions too - on everything from immigration policy to the Educational Maintenance Allowance, MPs expenses and the Human Rights Act. Julia Goldsworthy was there for the first half an hour but the event kept going for almost another hour after she left.

The issue of cultural diversity and commumnity cohesion is an important but sensitive area. I think we can gain strength from diversity and we can learn from other cultures but it is also crucial that we celebrate the values that unite us all as a British nation: tolerance and freedom under the rule of law.

One of the last jobs I did for the Conservative Party involved building stronger links with the muslim community. That year, I probably had more Christmas cards from muslims than I did from christians. The vast majority of muslims take their own religion seriously and respect other religions too. But we cannot ignore the threat to community cohesion posed by political Islamism - a distorted and extreme strand of Islam which does not respect the rule of law or our democratic institutions. Striking a balance that faces down those extremists without alienating other muslims is an important task in which we all have a role: politicians, the media and the public.