Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cameron's Ministry of Cohesion

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Cameron's Ministry of Cohesion

Article excerpt

David Cameron has just made a loud attack on multiculturalism. Inspired by the Chief Rabbi, he introduced us to a new concept that he calls "state multiculturalism". It is best represented, he said, "in the idea of Britain as a hotel ... with separate private spaces so separate cultures can live behind locked doors and be merely 'serviced' by the hotel management--in this case, the state".

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I have never before read or heard of the relationship between the state and the people described in this way. It is pure and unadulterated tosh, delivered by those without any historical sense of how these communities were formed and how they have developed to where they are now. And within this process there are hints to where we are headed.

The historical truth is quite simple. We formed communities near our places of work. There is Southall near Heathrow Airport, where thousands of Asian workers are employed. Brixton provided labourers in the factories that semi-circled south London. There was an outward migration to east London once Ford set up operations in Dagenham. Travel to Dudley and Smethwick, where Asian and Caribbean communities lived in striking distance of the engineering factories. Or to Lancashire, where the textile mills were set in motion by Asian workers who lived in Oldham.

We were mostly men who had two major priorities other than being at the factory gates of a morning. We sent funds back to our countries of origin to support parents, wives and children. It was that simple. We lived cheek by jowl as a matter of physical safety. Those were the days when "nigger-hunting" was a white man's sport.

These communities were not carbon copies of those we left behind. We could not possibly re-create them. We were as new to ourselves as we were to the locals. …

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