On Paris: We utterly unreservedly condemn the murder of seventeen people some of them cartoonists some of them workers in the office two of them police officers and I think six of them Jewish shoppers in a supermarket we utterly condemn the shedding of all of these people’s blood. But not only do we not think that there is an absolute right of freedom of speech, France doesn’t believe there’s an absolute right of freedom of speech. In France for example it’s illegal to deny the holocaust, and rightly so in my view it should be illegal here in Britain. Why? Because of the enormous hurt it causes to millions of Jewish people whose co-religionists were massacred in their millions in the holocaust. But it begs the question if the feelings of Jewish people in France may not be hurt by denying the holocaust, then …why should obscene and pornographic depictions of the prophet muhammad be permitted. It’s important not to call them cartoons, it’s important not to call them depictions of the prophet, they were obscene pornography they were not just pictures of the face of the prophet. I don’t want to go into the gory details but they were the foulest possible insult to 4.7 billion people and 40% French today after all that trouble are very clear about this that it should not be allowed and I agree with the poll about that.
On young people and radicalisation: Well that’s a very big question, radicalisation, extermination of Muslims particularly young Muslims has been underway for a very long time it didn’t begin with Syria, it will not end there. The government are always looking for an extremist cleric to ban from our shores or an extremist organisation to proscribe but actually all that a young Muslim in Britain and France and elsewhere needs to become radicalised is the ability to watch the television and there they will see for example thousands of Muslims being slaughtered in Gaza last summer and their governments supporting the people doing the slaughtering. These are the kinds of things that alienate Muslims and some of them to point of being prey to these separatist organisations, silent voices trying to lure young Muslims onto the rocks of separatism and violence so this phenomenon doesn’t come out of thin air it comes out of a swamp, a swamp of foreign policy mistakes and crimes, a swamp of alienation because of the prevailing atmosphere of Muslim-hating or Islamaphobia that we have in Western countries from the treatment that Muslims receive from the police and so on, it’s a self-perpetuating and downwards spiral we’re on and we have to get off it.
International law: Well it’s a long time since anyone quoted Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg at me, if you don’t mind I won’t treat them seriously enough to respond to them. What we need to do is have more, better, smarter policing and intelligence. We need to spend some of the money we spend sending our soldiers to other peoples countries, we need them to be here to defend us we’re about to spend 70 billion pounds on trident nuclear weapons, a mere fraction of which would improve our intelligence in this field phenomenally but we’re not actually doing very much that’s smart, our discourse depends on the problem and our actions could deepen it further still.
On Encryption: I think it would it be a mistake, I think its important to keep this in perspective. Irish terrorism in Britain over decades was a far greater challenge to the state than the relative handful of Islamic extremists operating in this country. At least on this side of the water, it was different in the north of Ireland, we didn’t sacrifice our essential liberty and I know its a cliche now but the statement that was made during the framing of the US constitution centuries ago is still pertinent that those who sacrifice liberty for security will end up enjoying neither liberty nor security and I believe that to be true and I think that in the 21st century banning technology and the reach of technology is a forlorn hope, it wouldn’t be long before people had gotten round the issue with encryption. Its simply not true that the security services cannot unencrypt encrypted messages, they can and they do and on a vast scale.
On the Narendra Modi government; There’s no sign that they are improving, on the contrary the line of control in Kashmir has seen more and more violent explosions over the last few weeks, months than ever before in peacetime. The track record of Modi in relation to Muslims in Gujarat is not an encouraging one, the tilt or turn Modi has made towards India, taking India in a pro-Israel direction is not a good sign either. I think that Modi is an extremely divisive sectarian politician and I’m sorry that he won the election.
On Eric Pickles letter; I’ll probably surprise you by saying that actually having read the letter I don’t see anything wrong with it and I think that is has been misinterpreted and the reaction to it unwise.
On Immigration; Well I don’t use language like curb it of course. Immigration is natural and historic part of our national life, otherwise I wouldn’t be here and neither would you. If Im correctly inferring, you’re an ethnicity. My grandparents came here as economic refugees from Ireland, and millions of people in Britain in modern times and many more in ancient times came here from other places. And each of them is equal. No man or woman is a foreigner to me. There are as many millions of people living in the European Union, exactly the same in fact as there are European Union citizens living in Britain, there are more British citizens claiming benefits in the European Union than European Union citizens claiming benefits in this country and the net gain last year from the product of immigrants was 5 billion, immigrants put 5 billion pounds more into the British economy than they took out. So we have to live with the fact that free movement of labour inside the European Union is inevitable, legal and I believe a beneficial thing. And of course Britain’s historic pattern of immigration from its former empire has slowed to a mere trickle now and also sorts of devices have been employed to bring that about, the bride price as we call it, where someone has to show that they have 18,000 or income before they can bring a spouse of their own choosing into the country which is both divisive and discriminatory in both class terms as well as in ethnic terms. I deplore all of these things and of course it goes without saying, these people who came here, either form the empire, are here because we were there and those refugees who are here have mainly come from countries that we have been bombing, invading, ad occupying in recent years. So I don’t take this hype over immigration line down, I fight back against it at every turn.
On redacted torture and rendition passages; well nothing must be redacted in this era, if we did it we have to show it. And if we are ashamed to show it, we shouldn’t have done it, I’m one of those waiting most anxiously for the Chilcott inquiry which will at least I hope begin to shed light on some of the most dramatic of the appalling blunders made by the British government, successive British governments but our overarching role in the so called war on terror which included facilitating torture maybe in participating in it…and there are all sorts of stories, some of which I believe about the presence of British intelligence officers, whilst people were being tortured and we need to know it, some day we will.
On Lib Dem plans to eliminate child illiteracy by 2025: I really don’t know why you keep throwing the Liberal Democrats at me, they’ll be few enough Liberal Democrats in this building very soon, I don’t think there promises are worth the paper they’re not written on. The schools in Bradford are little short of disastrous, a national disgrace, I’m a backbench MP I don’t control the city hall and I don’t control Whitehall, so I’m not able to do much except shout about it and shout I am. But I’m also seeking to provide an alternative model and what we’re doing on the 30th of January, it might be postponed by a week or two, when we launch Bradford challenge which is an attempt to replicate a model introduced in London which transformed London schools and in particular transformed Tower Hamlets schools, a borough with which I have a close association, a much maligned borough but which has utterly transformed from the results of its schools and with exactly the same demography, almost to a percentage point as Bradford has, so Bradford is 6th from bottom in the national league of school results and Tower Hamlets is in the top 10. And I want to know whats the difference what’s the X factor here. And I believe it is the London challenge and we’ll be promoting that heavily in the run-up to the election.
Interview by Lux Modhwadia