Multiculturalism Jumps The Shark

Union Flag, by Adrian Clark on Flickr
Union Flag, by Adrian Clark on Flickr

Or rather, “State multiculturalism has failed” jumps the shark.

David Cameron had made a speech about multiculturalism this weekend.  When I heard news reports about his remarks, I thought to myself that this was probably nothing new.  I have only just got around to reading the speech today, and unfortunately, I have been proved right.

Cameron argues for the need to separate the concept of Islamist violence, from mainstream, peaceful Islam.  He complains about public money being given to ‘gatekeeper’ organisations who claim to speak for all Muslims.  He argues for a definition of identity that can encompass all British citizens, regardless of their faith or origins.

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal points out that these are issues that we thrashed out long ago, and a sensible consensus has already been reached.

I vehemently attacked “state multiculturalism”, as Cameron did yesterday, back in 2006. At the time there was a problem with the government funding “community leaders” to deal with integration and counter-terrorism. There isn’t now. Organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain haven’t received state funding for years.

Sunder Katwala of the Fabian Society is equally scathing:

David Cameron said next to nothing new yesterday. Breathlessly briefed and largely received as one of his most important speeches as Prime Minister, I struggled to spot an original thought that he hasn’t been habitually been expressing for more than five years, from equating Islamist ideology with Nazism when running for Tory leader in 2005 or his frequent attacks on state-sponsored multiculturalism. Repeating himself as Prime Minister on the international stage gives it a certain status.

Cameron’s core narrative claim – that “muscular liberalism” must now replace decades of a lily-livered refusal to articulate our shared values – does depend upon one very silly founding premise: that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Jack Straw and David Blunkett, John Major and Michael Howard, and presumably Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit too, were rarely or never willing to articulate shared British values. This is patently absurd.

The Prime Minister’s suggestion that we forge a shared British identity is embarrassingly behind the times.  The 9/11 terrorist attacks kick-started the debate.  Wars in the Middle-East and terrorist attacks in Europe have kept the discussion spinning.  Entire books have been written, published and reprinted during that time. Billy Bragg’s Progressive Patriot is one that springs to mind: it deals with far right extremisim, and how British people reconcile the fact that we all have (at least) two flags.  Kenan Malik’s From Fatwa to Jihad is another obvious example, where state multiculturalism is impressively critiqued.

David Cameron’s speech is soooo 2005.  This isn’t leadership.  He needs some new ideas… and some new speech writers who can articulate them.