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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 14:20 GMT
Blair backs Blunkett on race
David Blunkett
Blunkett has stirred up more furore
Downing Street has renewed its backing for Home Secretary David Blunkett as the controversy continues over his remarks on race.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman welcomed the debate sparked by Mr Blunkett's call for ethnic minorities to adopt British "norms of acceptability".


There's many fascists and racists who will perversely draw comfort from his comments

Shahid Malik
Labour NEC member
Community and political leaders are warning Mr Blunkett his comments could be exploited by racists and the far-right British National Party says the home secretary is jumping on its bandwagon.

Mr Blunkett said racism must be confronted but immigrants who settle here must do their bit to ensure future generations grow up "feeling British" - such as learning English.

Speaking ahead of the publication of reports into the summer's race riots in towns like Oldham, Mr Blunkett said the government would not tolerate practices such as enforced marriages.

Blair's backing

The prime minister's official spokesman said there were no plans to introduce English tests for immigrants.

Instead, all that was being suggested was that a modest grasp of the English language would benefit both individuals and society, he said.

Pointing to the riots, the spokesman continued: "We can't pretend that this didn't happen and equally I don't think it's right to have some sort of self-imposed censorship on the grounds of political correctness because we are talking about race."

Mr Blair is meeting leading members of the Sikh community later on Monday as part of his regular programme of keeping in touch with groups of all faiths.

Rioting in Bradfordd this summer
Reports will recommend how to prevent a repeat of this summer's riots
Some observers suspect Mr Blunkett could be using the controversy as a smokescreen for criticism of the government in the reports on the riots.

Former Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) chairman Lord Ouseley said the comments were a diversion from reports that pointed the finger at government and local councils' failings.

Shahid Malik, a member of both Labour's National Executive CRE, has called Mr Blunkett's comments "disturbing" and wants Mr Blunkett him to clarify them.

Side effects

Mr Malik continued: "I have no doubt that there's many fascists and racists and members of the BNP who will perversely draw comfort from his comments and view them as some sort of green light.

"I know that's not what Mr Blunkett intended and I hope he will clarify his views and put them in a more appropriate context."

BNP leader Nick Griffin told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme his party would use the home secretary's comments in its campaign literature.

Bill Morris
Morris says Blunkett should calm down
"David Blunkett is making these noises because he has seen the very large votes the British National Party has had in recent elections.

"He is trying to shore up the white middle class vote."

Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4 on Sunday that people needed to feel they identified and belonged to their community and their nation and could contribute to it.

He said it was impossible to enforce a sense of belonging.

National norms

"But we can say that a healthy and cohesive community with one generation passing on their culture but also their commitment to their home, their country, to another generation will help us achieve these goals," he said.

He told the Independent on Sunday: "We have norms of acceptability and those who come into our home - for that is what it is - should accept those norms just as we would have to do if we went elsewhere."

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said Mr Blunkett seemed to have managed to declare war on "the judges, the police, the House of Lords and his own side in the Labour Party".

Mr Morris continued: "I say to our home secretary, please calm down, you have got a lot of friends, don't make any enemies."

Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin said the Conservatives would back any government proposals which encouraged more integration.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy warned Mr Blunkett could be misinterpreted, given the language used and the delicate race relations situation in the country.

The race riot reports by Home Office minister John Denham and community relations expert Ted Cantle are due for publication on Tuesday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Guto Harri
"Questionning the cultural background of ethnic minorities was bound to cause offence"
The BBC's Danny Shaw
speaks to young people in the town of Oldham about David Blunkett's remarks
British National Party Chairman, Nick Griffin
"He is trying to shore up the white, working class vote"
Find out more about the violence in northern England during the summer of 2001


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See also:

09 Dec 01 | UK Politics
26 Oct 01 | UK Politics
12 Jul 01 | UK
10 Dec 01 | UK Politics
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