Tony Blair formally declared Britain’s multiculturalist experiment over today as he told immigrants they had “a duty” to integrate with the mainstream of society.
‘No culture or religion supercedes our duty to be part of the UK’
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.
He added: “Conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed.
“If you come here lawfully, we welcome you. If you are permitted to stay here permanently, you become an equal member of our community and become one of us.
“The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means.”
Mr Blair’s volte face—just eight years ago he was a multiculturalist champion—was the culmination of a long Labour retreat from a cause it once enthusiastically embraced. 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 bombs in London last year.
Mr Reid, in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday on GMTV, said he was “sick and tired” of the sort of the “mad political correctness” that led to Christmas being devalued. “I think most people just find this completely over the top and I would rather have a bit of what I call PCS—Plain Common Sense—than PC—Political Correctness,” the Home Secretary added.
Although Mr Blair, speaking in Downing Street, said the diversity of cultures in Britain should still be celebrated, the whole tone of his speech was against the ideology that became known as multiculturalism.
“The right to be in a multicultural society was always implicitly balanced by a duty to integrate, to be part of Britain, to be British and Asian, British and black, British and white,” he said.
The suicide bombings in London on July 7 last year had thrown the whole concept of a multicultural Britain “into sharp relief” and had highlighted the divisions in society. While it was right that people should enjoy their own cultures, they should do under a single set of overarching values.
“Integration is not about culture or lifestyle,” said Mr Blair. “It is about values. It is about integrating at the point of shared, common unifying British values. It isn’t about what defines us as people, but as citizens, the rights and duties that go with being a member of our society.
“Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other faiths have a perfect right to their own identity and religion, to practice their faith and to conform to their culture. This is what multicultural, multi-faith Britain is about. That is what is legitimately distinctive.
“But when it comes to our essential values—belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all, respect for this country and its shared heritage—then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common; it is what gives us the right to call ourselves British. At that point no distinctive culture or religion supercedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.”
The speech was greeted with a mixture of anger from Muslim groups and scepticism from his political opponents. A spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain called it “concerning and alarming”. He added: “Mr Blair should be investing in our society to help the deprived, rather than investing millions and billions in illegal occupations which had not helped to promote multiculturalism in this country.
“Rather than standing up and lecturing us, it’s time he puts his money where his mouth is.”
Dominic Grieve, Conservative spokesman for community cohesion, said the speech was a “remarkable turnaround”. He added: “Many of the problems in relation to the issues he addresses are at least in part the consequence of a philosophy of divisive multiculturalism and political correctness that has been actively promoted by the Labour Party over many years at both national and local government levels.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, which has campaigned against historically high levels of immigration, said: “We certainly have a duty to integrate but the Government has its own duty to promote suitable conditions in which this is possible.”
He added: “The massive levels of immigration which they have deliberately stimulated in recent years makes effective integration almost impossible.”
Mr Blair said he was optimistic that integration was possible while conceding that Muslim extremism posed a problem both to cohesion and security. The fact that other cultures and religions all got on together harmoniously proved it was possible. But his specific proposals were aimed directly at the Muslim community.
He suggested that women were not treated well and should be allowed access to mosques. “Those that exclude the voice of women need to look again at their practices. I am not suggesting altering the law. But we have asked the Equal Opportunities Commission to produce a report by the spring of next year on how these concerns could be practically addressed, whilst of course recognising that in many religions the treatment of women differs from that of men.”
There was also no question of Islamic Sharia law being imposed in any part of the country, though there was room for the agreed settlement of civil disputes by religious courts, something that happens in the Jewish community.
[The full text of Tony Blair’s “multiculturalism” speech can be read here.]