Forced social integration plan targets Muslims

In their vision of a shared community, Britain's Conservatives stress the need for all to speak English and shun 'unacceptable practices'.

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LONDON // Muslim communities in Britain would be forced to integrate into UK society as a whole under a future Conservative government, the party has been told. Plans to force all immigrants to speak English and to ban any place for sharia in the British legal system have been outlined at the annual conference of the Conservative Party, the country's main opposition party.

The party, which has seen its lead over the Labour government in opinion polls cut to 12 points from 21 points in the past month, signalled an end to the policy of multiculturalism, which has encouraged different groups to retain their own religious and ethnic identities. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative shadow minister for community cohesion and social action, attacked what she called a "decade of state-driven multiculturalism" under Labour.

Mrs Warsi, a Muslim, said at the conference, which opened in Birmingham on Sunday, the policy had played on people's differences and had created cultural divisions at the expense of shared British values. "It has sent out the message that we're not sharing a society, we're just cohabiting a space," she said. "It has led people to retreat into separate cultures rather than reach for a shared community."

Additionally, she said it had created an "obsession with self-appointed community leaders, and a crude use of patronage politics has led to communities divided against each other, with people losing that inner instinct of what it is to be British". A future Conservative government would make integration and neighbourliness central to the party's policy-making with everyone in Britain being obliged to speak English and with British history being taught "so young people know who we are as a nation". She added: "Good neighbours look out for each other. That's why we will tackle unacceptable cultural practices, not turn our backs and say it's sensitive and none of our business."

In a separate speech, Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, a shadow minister for security, said a future Tory government would "force Muslims to integrate into British society". "We want unity and opportunity, despite difference, through integration." Mrs Neville-Jones said that although she accepted that minor disputes could be settled by "customary mediation", including sharia and the Jewish system of beth din, neither would ever receive legal recognition under a Conservative government.

"We are not going to have any legal recognition of sharia judgments that would withstand appeal to a secular court," she said. "We are not going to have any status for sharia courts. Absolutely not." Mrs Neville-Jones said there was also a clear divide between the Conservatives and Labour on how to deal with the spread of extremism among some young Muslims. "We will be tough. We will be really tough on the men of violence and those who lead them to violence," she told The Sunday Express before her conference speech. "That's the real gap between us and the government at the moment."

She said a Conservative government would extend the list of banned extremist groups and would seek to reform the European Convention on Human Rights to allow the deportation of clerics who incite violence. However, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "Sharia courts operate with the blessing of UK law." He added: "As for banning organisations, we believe in a democracy it is far better to allow all organisations to operate freely and, if individuals break the law, then they ought to be prosecuted." In his speech to the conference, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, told Gordon Brown, the prime minister: "You have had your boom - and your reputation is now bust."

It was the first party conference in two decades that had been held with the Conservatives ahead in the opinion polls and Mr Cameron told the party faithfuls only they could offer voters the united alternative to Mr Brown's government. Mr Cameron said the party needed to show voters that it had "a very clear plan" to help people through the credit crunch and, in the longer term, to make sure that the financial turmoil enveloping the United Kingdom "never happens again".

Though he tried to shrug off the latest opinion polls showing that Labour had almost halved the Conservatives' lead in the opinion polls, he warned party workers against complacency in the run-up to a general election, due within the next 20 months. One embarrassment for Mr Cameron came last night when a TV documentary on Channel Four accused the Conservatives of receiving large donations from hedge fund managers whose firms have been involved in the "short selling" practices that have brought chaos to the country's banking system.

At least two men, whose firms have been involved in short selling bank stock before the practice was banned last week, are members of Mr Cameron's exclusive "leader's group" - a club where generous donors to the party are rewarded with private chats over dinner with the Conservative leader. A spokesman for the party responded to the programme by saying "all donations are legal and comply with Electoral Commission rules".