If Tony Blair wishes to contribute to the current public debate around multiculturalism and religious identity in Britain, then good. I welcome his input, and find much with which to agree in his recent article in the Wall Street Journal. But in that piece the former prime minister displays an ignorance of history and current social reality, and we should never forget that it was Blair’s New Labour that continued with and expanded the statist multiculturalism – or rather plural monoculturalism – of the Tories that led us to where we are today.
Now I know that it’s fun to mock the left-leaning resistance culture of 1980s Britain, but British black and Asian identities were healthy and strong during that period, and they contributed a huge amount to wider British society. Flawed they may have been, but, being a product of civil society rather than the state, the national cultures and various subcultures of 1980s Britain were by today’s standards relatively open and diverse.
Perhaps the biggest error in Blair’s analysis is his contra-factual insistence that the problem of non-integration cuts across denominational and national boundaries. Where is the evidence for this? The reality is that the least integrated Muslim communities in Britain are those which trace their origins to Kashmir and Bangladesh. That should give us clues as to how best to focus on and devote resources to tackling the problem of non-integration into broader British society.
Like Shiraz Maher, who in Standpoint magazine praises to the rafters Blair’s latest contribution to the debate, I miss the former prime minister, but in my case the fondness extends only so far as Blair’s liberal interventionist foreign policy. Like the two American presidents with whom he worked, Blair displayed moral strength and provided effective leadership when faced with international crises, and for this we should be thankful.
On the other hand, New Labour at home succeeded in mating the arse end of Margaret Thatcher’s faux-free-market managerialism with an updated social democracy, and the result is a bastard of an ideology which has left these islands in a social mess that could take a generation or more to repair. Tony Blair bears some personal responsibility for this state of affairs.