Who said that multiculturalism has failed?
By Ken Livingstone
Morning Star, 12 November 2005
Against a backdrop of the London bombings, the scenes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the riots in French towns and cities, a furious debate on racial equality and community relations has unfolded in the media over the summer and autumn.
After the terrorist attacks in July, some commentators and newspapers urged London to abandon its policies of respect for different cultures and celebration of diversity – in favour of what some described as the “French model.”
The suggestion was that London, by celebrating the contribution of different cultures to our city, was emphasising differences rather than what people have in common and encouraging “segregation.”
Only this week, writing in Daily Express, Leo McKinstry ranted that “we are living in the shadow of fear because of our rulers’ attachment to the twin dogmas of mass immigration and cultural diversity.”
“Without giving us any say,” he claimed, “they have imported wholesale the problems of the Third World – from corruption to superstition, from tribalism to misogyny – into advanced, democratic, Christian cultures.”
Faced with the events in France, the opponents of multiculturalism have had to perform unedifying contortions.
Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail inverts reality by claiming that France had abandoned the French model, arguing that the banning of the hijab and other religious symbols was “too little, and maybe too late” and that the warning from France was that “we must end the ruinous doctrine of multiculturalism and reassert British identity.”
The truth of course is that the French model is fundamentally different to that of multiculturalism – as the ban on the hijab so clearly underlines.
But the critics of multiculturalism are simply wrong about what is happening in Britain.
In reality the Greater London Authority’s research shows that the real trend is not of “segregation” of ethnic minorities, but of increased dispersal as new communities become established over time.
It was suggested that the French model, which supposedly disregards ethnic and religious differences – to the point of banning Muslim headscarves in schools – would produce greater social cohesion.
As France does not collect statistics on ethnic and religious groups, there is little evidence of whether the model allows ethnic minorities to get their fair share of jobs, resources and opportunities.
But the riots which spread across France from the end of October suggest that the French model has singularly failed to integrate the ten or more per cent of its population of Arab and African heritage – and instead confined them to vast ghettos with many times the average levels of unemployment and poverty and the indignity of being disproportionately singled out for police identity checks when they leave their local area.
In Britain, it was stop and search operations disproportionately targeting black youth that were the trigger for the riots which swept the country more than 20 years ago in 1981.
It should not be forgotten that at that time, much as in France today, there was not a single black or Asian member of parliament, virtually no representation on local councils, virtually no black police officers, few teachers and virtually no leading business people.
London still faces great challenges. Our education system does not give black schoolboys the start in life to which they are entitled. Far too little has been done to ensure that those leading and staffing our public services and private companies properly reflect all of the city’s communities.
But, as the united response to the bombings showed, London’s model of multiculturalism works. Its cornerstone is the simple economic reality that the world’s great cities will become more and more diverse.
We can celebrate our diversity and make it a great source of creativity and dynamism, or we can fight it, as in the clash of civilisations thesis, and turn our cities into zones of fear and conflict.
London’s choice is clear – we celebrate diversity. We aim to give every community its fair stake in our city’s politics, prosperity and culture. We want every community fully represented in our police service, teaching profession, boardrooms and elected officials.
We have no illusions about how far we still have to go to achieve social justice and racial equality – but we have no doubt about where we are going.