I would like to open a productive dialogue about whether multiculturalism is a failed concept in modern day Britain. But I will have to recognize that multiculturalism is a divisive topic. In fact the topic has probably already divided you. Some of you will have seen the dreaded ‘M’ word and jumped ship already. Some of you will already have extremely strong opinions on this topic, and how well this piece matches those opinions will determine whether your response is ‘well she knows what she is talking about’ or ‘well that was utter shit.’ Some of you will hopefully be able to see beyond the many years that you have spent having the idea of multiculturalism shoved down your throat – and any other place that they could get it – to recognize that it is a complex issue that requires deeper analysis than the media or politicians can provide.
I would like to dive into whether multiculturalism is a failed concept in Britain but it would probably be prudent to first tackle those that feel that they have already adequately addressed this issue. Most significantly David Cameron who, in a 2011 speech to the Munich Security Council, announced that Multiculturalism was a State policy that had not only failed but had been a key factor in creating Islamic extremism.
I would like to think that politicians employ analysis and reasoning when they make sweeping statements about the state of society. However most of us will be in agreement that this is often not the case and indeed political parties from any ideological background will often denounce the policies of past governments merely to set themselves apart. In the case of multiculturalism, historian Ben Pitcher describes this as an example of the government using the rejection of the policy as a means to draw attention to and benefit from a public anxiety about ‘seperateness’ without implementing any true policy change.
I would like to wrap the concept of British multiculturalism up into a neat and easily consumable package but it would be more accurate to acknowledge that it is vastly more complicated. The topic is centered on policy that is implemented and supported by the government. But as to the ‘multicultural aspect, no clear definition exists. Multiculturalism is not something that can be pinned down into one definition or example. In fact the most important aspect of multiculturalism is that it is not a stable or coherent entity (Pitcher). It is this aspect of multiculturalism that allows it to be easily altered, adapting to different contexts and enjoying longevity as a consequence. However for the sake of not taking the complete easy way out I will acknowledge that multiculturalism does fall in the ball park of recognizing rights to cultural maintenance and community formation while promoting equality and resisting discrimination (Stephen Castles).
I would like to breakdown the historical context that multicultural policy has been a reaction to before turning to ways that the government has implemented various policy points. However being limited to a short blog format I will stick to the salient points which will highlight the basics of why multiculturalism is not a failed policy whilst also displaying that it is perhaps too optimistic to hope that a few paragraphs on a page, or a speech given by a Prime Minister in Germany, can cover the complexity that is the history of multicultural policy in Britain. The British Nationality Act of 1948 granted all inhabitants of the Commonwealth the right of free entry into Britain, which resulted in free colonial migration until 1962 when the Commonwealth Immigrants Act put a stop to it. Moving away from being an imperial power was key in pushing Britain to find a new way to define itself. The post-war context was extremely complex, racial tension was rife and multicultural policy needed to respond to this. However housing shortage was also a problem, which tied up racial tension with economic problems.
Examples of policy have ranged from those on a local level to the national stage. Community groups backed by the government, such as the Hindu Forum of Britain and Inter-faith Council for Wales have worked to build connections in the community. Education programs, including those based on the Swann Report by the Thatcher government, have been implemented to reduce racism in the classroom. Under the New Labour government of 1997 the Equality and Human Rights Commission created education plans. General discourse in the parliament also reveals how embedded the notion of multiculturalism is, ‘interfaith dialogues’ being held in which multicultural rhetoric is commonly used (Lords Hansard, Sept 2011).
I would like to think that talking about multiculturalism necessarily prompts people to recognize that there are a plethora of nationalities within the British community. However, as highlighted by academic Tariq Modood, criticisms of multiculturalism often focus on Muslims and extremism because of the social context of a post 9/11 world. However this fails to recognize that the population of Britain is made up from numerous ethnic groups including Chinese, Black African, Indian and Black Caribbean to name a few (Office for National Statistics, 2009).
I would hope that no one would think that I would put forward that Multicultural policy has solved all of societies ills, however it is not a failed concept. It has been able to adapt as a policy to various contexts and was necessary following the end of the colonial era of the United Kingdom. There are various other areas of this complex issue that I have not brought up for discussion. But I find that any blog post, or indeed Prime Minister, that attempts to offer you all of the answers in the form of a limited medium is most likely operating with a specific agenda.