The general understanding of the Labour Government's policy since 1997 in the fields of anti-discrimination and hate legislation is that it is driven either by a multicultural agenda or by European Union directives. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the US and of July 7, 2005, in London, the Government has been at pains to distance itself from traditional multiculturalism. Even Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, has pronounced that British multiculturalism has failed.
In a series of essays, Derek McGhee examines the evolution of Labour's policy by focusing on its record on race and policing, the community cohesion agenda, the hysteria against asylum seekers, efforts to introduce religious hate legislation and the policing of homophobia. These disparate fields, McGhee argues, are intimately related because they reveal common trends in policy objectives that are defined not by a retreat into traditional communitarianism or assimilation but are underpinned by the "third way" project to promote a more cosmopolitan society.
This cosmpolitanisation, McGhee suggests, is evident in an irrevocable commitment to diversity, the efforts to build a participatory democracy and, above all, to legislate against hate crime against faiths and minorities without losing "Middle England". In sum, government efforts since 1997 have created a new context in which tolerance, difference and integration with communities other than one's own have become defining features. Seen in this way, the Government's wider strategy is "not concerned with protecting 'the British way of life' from invasion of 'alien' races and cultures; rather this is a strategy dedicated to attempting to re-imagine a new British way of life". Much of what McGhee says is familiar to those who have followed the debates, but this volume is distinguished by its highlighting of the links between various strands of public policy.
The book's only major omission is that it does not seriously tackle the "Muslim question" and whether it can be framed in terms of cosmopolitanism, especially since July 7. The struggle to tackle intolerance among ethnic minorities is likely to prove as least as challenging as framing a "new Britain".
Gurharpal Singh is professor of inter-religious relations, Birmingham University.
Intolerant Britain? Hate, Citizenship and Difference. First Edition
Author - Derek McGhee
Publisher - Open University Press
Pages - 233
Price - £60.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 335 21675 7 and 21674 9