MULTICULTURALISM HAS WON THE DAY. LET’S MOVE ON
Rightwing scaremongering over immigration has failed as 70% of Britons now believe a multicultural society is a good thing.
It’s official: 45 years after Enoch Powell made his “rivers of blood” speech – the fearmongers have lost the war, while those who think Britain is stronger with a multiracial and multicultural identity have won.
Don’t believe me? The former Tory chairman Lord Ashcroft did a representative survey of British ethnic minority voters last week, and found that 90% think we have become a multicultural country, and a similar proportion say this is a good thing. A broader national survey found that 90% of all Britons also agreed Britain had become a multicultural country, and 70% were in favour of this development.
Just to reiterate: 70% of all Britons think becoming a multicultural country was a good thing for the UK. This is an extraordinary figure, one that certain parts of the country will always hate to accept, and has social and political implications for our country. The poll found that only group where a majority (57%) were opposed to multiculturalism was Ukip voters.
I’m not going to define multiculturalism here because to a large extent that is irrelevant. What matters is how people perceive it and that they welcome it. I think there are three lessons here:
The first point to note is that the continuous war waged by the rightwing press against multiculturalism has utterly failed. Public opinion has in fact moved in the opposite direction and become less hostile to people of different cultures and ethnicities living in the UK. In other words, interacting with ethnic minorities and watching them contribute to the UK (in sport, business, academia etc) has easily overcome tabloid scaremongering. This doesn’t just illustrate the limited impact of the press and politicians, but the power of everyday experiences in changing opinions. So when David Cameron gave a speech in 2011 saying “multiculturalism has failed” he just reinforced the negative perceptions of the Tory party of Enoch Powell, while only appealing to a narrow sliver of the population. Even mainstream Conservative voters don’t buy that view any more: 71% of them support multiculturalism too. There is also evidence to show that attitudes to immigrants have improved since 2002.
The second lesson is for writers, activists and academics who work in this field: we too have to accept that the war has been won and move on. There are still too many conferences and debates on race where the main focus is to “defend against the war on multiculturalism”. Those are old battles while the UK faces new challenges relating to race relations: the exploitation and marginalisation of eastern Europeans (particularly Roma people), securing higher wages for immigrant workers, amnesty for undocumented immigrants and rising antisemitism and Islamophobia.
But, most importantly, these findings have a lesson for the Conservative party and the right more broadly: they must get to grips with how Britain has changed. In 1978 Margaret Thatcher gave a significant interview where she said Britons were worried about being “swamped” by Asian immigrants of a different culture. The interview has legitimised the use of such harsh rhetoric by tabloid newspapers ever since. But it also turned off from the Tories a large proportion of ethnic minority voters who thought the party hated people like them. The electoral impact of that is still being felt now.
Multiculturalism has become shorthand for a multiracial and multi-ethnic Britain at ease with its modern identity. Rightwing criticisms are therefore seen merely as an attack on modern Britain. The Conservative party’s swift condemnation of Tory councillor John Cherry after his remarks on ethnic minority children is another example. It’s time rightwingers accepted that the apocalyptic future imagined by Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher and the Daily Mail never materialised. The British public has seen through the fearmongering and shrugged it aside.
By Sunny Hundal