Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Kelly Sounds Death Knell for Multiculturalism

Ever since the 2001 race riots in the northwest, 7-7, massive inflows of immigrants and the recent crisis over the alleged British Muslim based plots to down aircraft destined for the USA, the doctrine of multiculturalism has been under close scrutiny. In essence this extends an evenhanded approach to incoming cultures, allowing them to co-exist with the host culture on an equal basis, retaining their rights to worship and use their own languages. At its best this produces the vivid ebullience of the pictured Notting Hill Carnival but at its worst it produces segregated communities which have little contact with anyone else and where, it is argued, hostility to the host country can be nurtured and force-fed into murderous intent.

Writing in Prospect magazine, early last year, David Goodhart, a solid member of the liberal elite, questioned this approach and suggested it should be dismantled. Last week Ruth Kelly's announcement of the Commission for Integration and Cohesion [incidentally, am I alone in thinking her lectern speaking style is a perfect example of how not to do it?] indicated that this left of centre government has made a massive U turn on multiculturalism and aims to discover a new route to national ethnic harmony, if indeed there is one. 'Cohesion and Integration' represent something very different from the absorption of separate cultures entailed in the former politically correct multicultural approach; from separation and autonomy we have moved to two opposing concepts.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle enjoys putting the boot into this dramatic leftwing reversal of position. I don't often agree with the self regarding Liddle nor with everything in his article yesterday, but his reflections on the irony of Ray Honeyford's 1986 fate resonated with me. I recall sharing something of the general feeling at the time that this northern headmaster's suggestion that his Asian pupils should learn English, plus some British history amounted at least to a form of 'neo-racism'. For his article in the tiny rightwing Salisbury Review, Honeyford was pilloried mercilessly and eventually forced to retire.

Yet surely, those of us on the left who criticised him were wrong and owe him some sort of an apology? Of course those were the fevered years of Thatcherism and the battle lines of those days brooked little genuine reflection or quarter given. But on grounds of natural justice alone there is at least an a priori case for suggesting Honeyford be invited to sit on Kelly's Commission. Even if it were offered I doubt if he'd accept.

It's progress that at long last the Left has accepted that the evil racists may have had a point when they talked about integration (of course the real racists, while unhappy about the numbers, are quite happy with a lack of integration).

The problem now is that the old British identity, vaguely Christian, vaguely patriotic, intensely law-abiding, addicted to concepts of fairness and freedom - the kind of identity that most working people would have recognised, has been dismantled over the last 40 years. So it's rather difficult to know what exactly immigrants are meant to assimilate to.

We have the worst of both worlds - immigration on a scale which would make integration difficult, though not impossible, even in the presence of a dynamic, confident host culture - and that's exactly what we haven't got.
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