Tony Blair formally declared Britain’s multicultural experiment over yesterday as he told immigrants they had “a duty” to integrate with the mainstream of society. In a speech that overturned more than three decades of Labour support for the idea, he set out a series of requirements that were now expected from ethnic minority groups if they wished to call themselves British.
These included “equality of respect” – especially better treatment of women by Muslim men – allegiance to the rule of law and a command of English. If outsiders wishing to settle in Britain were not prepared to conform to the virtues of tolerance then they should stay away….
Mr Blair’s volte face – just eight years ago he championed multiculturalism – was the culmination of a long Labour retreat from the cause. In recent weeks, Jack Straw, Ruth Kelly, John Reid and Gordon Brown have all played their part in a concerted revision of the Cabinet’s stand which began in earnest after the July 7 suicide bombings in London last year. Mr Blair, speaking in Downing Street, said the diversity of cultures in Britain should still be celebrated but the tone of his speech was against the ideology that became known as multiculturalism.
See also the Times, 9 December 2006
Not that this about-turn has necessarily won Labour leaders plaudits from the Tory press. Philip Johnston pours scorn on their belated embrace of right-wing clichés about the evils of multiculturalism:
It all came to a head just a few weeks ago, with the great veil controversy. Suddenly, Labour ministers were asking questions that most people had answered years ago. Now they queue to espouse respect for the monarchy, demand that immigrants learn English, praise British history and insist on the primacy of the law.
All this against the backdrop of the worst act of terrorism on British soil, perpetrated by British-born Muslims in the name of a religion whose extremist tenets the multiculturalists not only never challenged but even produced an insult – Islamophobia – to damn those who did.
There is something a little ridiculous about Mr Blair, in the death throes of his office, trying to convince us of something most of us had concluded a long time ago but which his Government did precious little to confront when it mattered.