“Multiculturalism is a misguided dogma that allows people to live parallel lives.” This divisive assertion was included in a widely vilified speech uttered overseas by a soon-to-be-sacked Home Secretary desperately seeking approval from a far-right faction of her floundering political party. In this context, such extreme sentiments might be wisely ignored as the irrational death rattle of a fatally wounded political career.
However, what should command our concern is when such facile declarations are swallowed whole then regurgitated onto the opinion pages of this newspaper by the President of the local Conservatives. An unwelcome reflux of nonsensical bile that demonstrates little more than a woeful (perhaps wilful) ignorance of British history. Small-minded at best. Diminishing of British culture without question. At worst, a dog whistle for bigots, emboldening the sort of grotesque prejudice that considers mid Wales out of bounds for people hailing from as nearby as ‘Brummyland’.
Right Field columnist Patrick Loxdale recently shared his thinking that “institutionalising difference (promoting multiculturalism) won’t result in integration. We must all be subject to the same law, expect the same rights and fulfil the same obligations.” Sounds legit, but before we tackle what is, in fact, a gratuitous over-simplification, it will be useful to define exactly what we mean by ‘multiculturalism’.
‘Multiculturalism’ is the term used to describe the reality in which various ethnic and cultural groups exist in a single society - a city like Cardiff - a country like Great Britain. When deployed politically, a ‘policy of multiculturalism’ intends to develop strategies and instigate legislation supporting the right of different cultural and ethnic groups to retain distinctive cultural identities. In effect, a policy of multiculturalism aims to reduce the challenges faced by minorities living in a multicultural society by prohibiting discrimination, promoting race equality, and facilitating intercultural dialogue. A vocal cohort of Conservatives assert this as a failed dogma and are against such progressive strategies.
However, a policy of multiculturalism is the sole reason we have the Welsh language protected, taught in our schools, and prominent on our signage - this has not always been so. A policy of multiculturalism is why we no longer see ‘No Irish, No Blacks’ in tenement windows - this has not always been so. A policy of multiculturalism is why it is against the law to engage in antisemitic hate speech - this has not always been so.
But Patrick suggests multiculturalism fails because “ignoring the rights of some to promote the rights of others is plainly wrong”. What tosh. Is it wrong to deny the rights of racist landlords in order to promote the integration of immigrant communities? Is it wrong to deny the rights of employers to sack Jewish or Muslim employees because different cultures observe different holy days? Is it wrong to deny the rights of those who wish to vocalise extreme prejudices in the street?
Patrick’s view is that, “arrogantly dismissing peoples’ legitimate anxieties as some form of “ism” or phobia, is (ironically) deeply intolerant”. The key word here is ‘legitimate’. Thankfully, and only due to policies of multiculturalism, it is no longer legitimate to engage in hate speech or to act out one’s racist instincts and tendencies. Thankfully, a modern liberal democracy understands that in order to persist, a tolerant society must be intolerant of intolerance. As Patrick notes, this feels ironic. So what? The truth is that protecting the rights of cultural minorities and criminalising racial discrimination is not an infringement of anyone’s rights but a necessary step towards creating a tolerant and inclusive society (‘Popper’s Paradox’ is worth looking up).
This is why, since the 1960s, and in order to be ‘intolerant of intolerance’, Britain has officially adopted a policy of multiculturalism by affording some protection to racial minorities. In the wake of much needed migration from the Commonwealth, the British government passed a series of Race Relations Acts that criminalised racial discrimination in areas of society such as employment, public and retail services, housing, and education. Are Patrick and his cohort arguing against such legislation on the grounds of irony, restriction of their rights to be racist, or do they just not understand what a policy of multiculturalism is?
What should feel ironic to Patrick is that long before policies of multiculturalism, Britain was always an exemplar of a multicultural nation. From the early Neolithic influx of the east European Beaker people, Romans, Vikings, et al, each wave of new people brought with them not only their spiritual and material cultures, their tastes and wares, but also the ideas that laid the bedrock for British society. Look around - observe the unlikely but dazzling variety of physical features, languages, cultures, and traditions. To describe this multicultural nation we inhabit as a failed project undermines the United Kingdom by disregarding the very foundations of our national identity - not least, ignores the distinct but complementary cultures of Welsh, of Scottish, of Irish, and of the English.
And it should not be forgotten that this long tradition of multiculturalism is the primary reason why we British, when overseas, feel little compulsion to relinquish ‘Britishness’ - famously clustering into flag-waving enclaves - why we show off (often to the point of caricature) an outstanding variety of identities, cultures, and heritages - kilts, daffodils, crusading knights, and shamrocks.
So why do Conservatives feel intimidated or uncomfortable when other cultural groups behave in exactly the same way we do? Why do Conservatives expect people arriving from other nations to abandon their proud cultures when we would never think to abandon ours?
It is clear that professed sceptics of multiculturalism are ignoring the plain truth that the British ability to absorb diverse influences has been a driving force behind our cultural progress. That our ability to draw strength from various populations and perspectives has enabled the British nation to navigate centuries of challenges with resilience and success. That British history shows it is both profitable and prudent to embrace multiculturalism, to cherry pick the best of each influx of new ideas. That without this continuous appetite for multiculturalism, we would not have our pyjamas, Christmas trees, curries, or those tribal tattoos. And that in times of war and crisis, the unity forged through this diversity has proven to be our greatest asset.
These great isles have never operated as a homogenous racial or cultural monolith - famously otherwise. British history is a story of assimilation, adaptation, and progress. And in embracing this swirling medley of British peoples, we do not weaken our national identity, we strengthen it. For it is self-evident our power lies in our diversity - a source of strength fostering creativity, innovation, and excellence that time and time again propels the United Kingdom onto the global stage.
Of course, multiculturalism brings challenges. But it is high time we recognise that few problems are inherent to multiculturalism itself, but most often the product of a narrow mindset in the host community resisting the coexistence of diverse cultures. For those denying our long tradition of cultural mingling and appropriation reflect an intellectual myopia that both holds back our society and denies the very essence of what it means to be British.
So Patrick, don’t be frightened of multiculturalism - it’s been here for ever and is not going away. The reality is, like it or not, multiculturalism plots the entire course of British history and should be celebrated by us all as an integral and productive part of our national journey - a remarkable and technicolour narrative that continues to unwind today.