Definition – Multicultural: of or relating to or constituting several cultural or ethnic groups within a society.
Multicultural Britain – The Background
Britain has a long history of absorbing people from different cultural or ethnic groups.
Many people date the beginning of modern Britain back to 1066 when French invaders conquered the “English” king and took over the country. The effects of this invasion can still be felt today in the rules and language used to govern the UK. Indeed, it was only after a Parliamentary decree in 1362 that the English language – itself a mix of native and foreign dialects – came to be seen as the official language of Britain. At about the same time writers, such as Chaucer, started producing works in vernacular English. Even then the language popularised by this writing was really only a dialect spoken by the people in one part of the country.
The English spoken today reflects many different roots, and continues to adopt and adapt words and phrases from other languages. The English language’s propensity to mould itself to the needs and experiences of its many speakers, may also be what makes it the ‘lingua franca’ in so many countries around the world.
In a similar way the UK itself has long adopted a policy of multiculturalism in relation to immigrants. Put in very simple terms this means that the UK allows people from different cultures to live in the UK whilst continuing to practise their own cultural traditions rather than expecting them to adapt to, so-called, “British” ways.
The Approach to Immigration in Other Countries
Multiculturalism is not manifested in all Western countries with a history of immigration. Sometimes this is the result of official government policy and sometimes it is due to the wishes and actions of the immigrants themselves. Rather than expecting a country to assimilate different cultural systems the immigrant is expected, or expects, to adapt their behaviour to the country in which they now live.
Immigrants to the United States of America, for example, have traditionally shown a strong desire to become “American”. They have wished to redefine themselves by reference to this new land of opportunity. By contrast, in France there have been increasing government moves in recent years to encourage, or force, immigrants to take on the cultural behaviour and values of their new home.
Enoch Powell – Rivers of Blood
2008 saw the 40th anniversary of, the right-wing politician, Enoch Powell’s notorious and incendiary “Rivers of Blood” speech. In this he warned of the dangers, as he saw them, of unchecked immigration and urged a policy of repatriation for those immigrants already in the UK. Powell predicted that by the year 2000 10% of the UK population would consist of people from ethnic minorities – with dire consequences for the ethnically British. (The 2001 census showed that just under 8% of the UK population came from an ethnic minority.)
Whilst the speech effectively ended Powell’s political career, it continues to resonate today. Although it has been several decades since the UK experienced sustained race riots there have been isolated outbreaks of unrest, as well as numerous incidents of race-related violence. The speech continues to be heralded by the increasingly visible supporters of nationalistic, far-right parties. The growth of these parties is apparent in many countries throughout Europe and is interpreted by some as a backlash against the policy of multiculturalism.
The UK immigration policy continues to welcome visitors and skilled workers from abroad. However, in the last few years it has also become a stated aim of the UK immigration authorities to:
- strengthen the country’s borders;
- restrict the number and availability of work and student visas;
- implement a more structured visa application process; and,
- ensure that foreign nationals “earn” the right to acquire UK nationality.
These measures have undoubtedly been influenced by an increase in global immigration crime and terrorism. However, it is has also been felt necessary to address the apparent disenfranchisement of many first or second generation British nationals. A potential consequence of multiculturalism is that communities originating from other countries can become isolated from the supposedly indigenous population, leading to a lack of identity with the UK.
Future Immigration Policy
A new Conservative government would not wish to appear unduly nationalistic – despite tendencies of some on the right wing of the party to hold those views. Therefore it is improbable that they would implement strongly anti-immigration policies. However, they will have a delicate political balancing act to achieve and would certainly be unlikely to promote more lenient immigration policies than those of the Labour government.