Official circles are falling over themselves to signal an end to multicultural Britain. Leading the charge is Trevor Phillips, the Blairite who is overseeing the demise of the Commission for Racial Equality in favour of a half-baked New Labour alternative body.
Phillips’ latest attack was amazingly targeted at the Notting Hill carnival held over the Bank Holiday. He said it did not reflect the lives of ordinary black people. Phillips has repeatedly said multiculturalism is no longer the way forward and communities should integrate more closely into British society. Now no less an expert than BBC newsreader George Alagiah, in his new book, has blamed the "policies of multiculturalism" for the alienation and radicalisation of British Muslims.
Not to be left out, the idea of multiculturalism was dealt an official blow by so-called communities minister Ruth Kelly with the recent launch of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. She said: "I believe… we have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness."
What is behind the wave of attacks on "multiculturalism"? It is the fear and loathing of diversity and the inability/refusal of the government to understand the sense of alienation that pervades large sections of the Muslim community. Muslims as Muslims are now held responsible for everything from terrorism to the despair in poor, white working class communities. The answer? Drop your culture, religion and traditions – and perhaps even the colour of your skin – and become British. Just integrate, stupid!
Oh, how the right-wing and the racists love this attack on multiculturalism. It reinforces their views that the problem with Britain is that there are too many foreigners here. They should either integrate or go home. Here they share some views with Phillips. He has said that Muslims who favour sharia law should leave Britain.
Of course, the concept of multiculturalism is far from perfect. It flounders against a background of fractured and often impoverished communities that globalisation of the British economy and cities has produced. Multiculturalism is not much good when it comes to finding a decent, well-paid job or affordable housing. Especially when we have a government that insists that the forces of the market economy alone must decide outcomes.
Those who attack multiculturalism have no answers to these issues, however. Instead, they want us all to be the same, enjoying those great British "values" that reinforce an unequal society based on privilege, wealth and power exercised by a small minority who themselves lead quite separate lives.
Paul Feldman, communications editor