Paul Kelly London School of Economics
Multiculturalism is a complex phenomenon that can be understood in a variety of ways and from a variety of political and intellectual perspectives. It is alternatively the only way to characterise British society in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century and a transformation of the national character of British politics. Politicians from the right and the left see it as an invidious and divisive approach to social and political integration or an attempt to achieve justice, equality and recognition within a diverse and ethnically plural society. For many commentators it is merely a local fashion that has no general significance in the way traditional ideologies such as conservatism, liberalism and socialism do, even when they are coloured by national variation. For yet more commentators post July 7th 2005 and more recently the debates sparked by the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, it is seen as a dangerous distraction or a policy that has run its course.1 There remains considerable debate about whether multiculturalism is a distinct ideology or a distinct strand in political theory or whether it is merely an application of more traditional political ideas and concepts to a new set of local social circumstances. 2 As such there is considerable scope for disputing whether multiculturalism has any place in a survey and analysis of British political thought as opposed to survey of British politics and policy in the last twenty-five years. In a previous essay on multiculturalism I sought to explain its character and resonance by describing it as a response to a set of social and political circumstances characterised by
large scale immigration, colonisation and post colonisation in western democratic states: what I then called the ‘circumstances of multiculturalism’. 3 The argument of that work claimed that the consequences of large scale immigration...