You can always rely on right-of-centre parties to play the race card for electoral advantage. And so it is no surprise that the British Conservative’s shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve is doing just that in advance of the Conservative Party conference next week. He makes some pretty nasty remarks in an interview with The Guardian today including saying that “long-term inhabitants” (code for “whites”) have been “left fearful”. He even seems to be suggesting that “multiculturalism” was a goal of Government policy rather than (what it is) an inescapable consequence of immigration. Grieve further reveals his ignorance by saying that the “idea behind it [the goal of multiculturalism] was [to] create the melting pot” – an idea as daft as it is outdated.

There was never a goal of any administration to create “multiculturalism” in Britain – although there has always been a moral imperative to respect alternative cultures within British society. Immigration to Britain has been for many reasons – economic, compassionate, pragmatic and so on. But never because someone somewhere decided that to have a multicultural society, rather than a monocultural one, was a good thing. Given that multiculturalism was never a goal the idea of the “melting pot” can never have been a goal either. The simplistic melting pot notion says that over time cultures will move into a sort of blend which means that we all end up the same, whatever our background and origins.  Some of this happens, of course, but many cultures are resistant to such influences and retain their separateness through the generations. Government has no role to play in either encouraging assimilation or in discouraging it. Indeed Government should stand well back – unless, of course, one culture is threatening and is not law abiding.

The overriding need, and an area where Government should play a part, is to ensure that all citizens are treated equally under the law and that all have equality of opportunity. So if an otherwise benign cultural group starts to discriminate (for example) on grounds of gender a consequence of which is that females are forced into things against their will then many of us would feel that the law should intervene.  There is a hierarchy with the rule of law at the top – if the law says that there should be no discrimination but a cultural sub-group still wants to discriminate then it is the law which must prevail. But if there is a cultural variation from the traditional national behavioral norms, and if this variation is not unlawful and has no harmful effect for anyone, then it would be quite inappropriate for the law to intervene.

At the last General Election the then Conservative Party leader Michael Howard employed an Australian advisor called Lynton Crosby on his campaign. Crosby helped Howard’s namesake John Howard in Australia to win elections by playing on people’s deepest and often irrational fears – not least their fears about the “threat” of non-white cultures to Australia’s established mores. The Tories tried the Crosby approach in 2005 and it failed miserably. David Cameron would be well-advised to remember this and eschew such tactics this time – and he might think about reprimanding his Home Affairs spokesman for his inappropriate and offensive remarks.

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