One year after the London riots, the national mood has changed as Britain basks in the glory of the Olympic Games
This week, a year ago, London was burning as anger over the death of a black youth in a police shoot-out spiralled into one of the worst riots in England for a generation.
The violence prompted a torrent of incendiary comment about the impact of “laissez faire” multiculturalism on British values and Britain’s way of life. A year on, as London basks in the warm glow of the Olympic Games, with several immigrants bringing glory for Britain, the mood has swung to the other extreme. There is a mass outbreak of enthusiasm for multiculturalism, famously declared “dead” by the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) not long ago. Suddenly it is seen as up there with other “unique” values that put the “Great” into Great Britain.
Athletes of foreign descent such as Mohamed “Mo” Farah, Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford, Tiffany Porter and Yamilé Aldama — once derided as “plastic Brits” — are being hailed as the new face of Britain’s “vibrant” racial and cultural diversity.
Ennis, daughter of a Jamaican immigrant, has been called “the nation’s new sweetheart,” and Mo Farah, who came to Britain as a nine-year-old refugee from war-ravaged Somalia, a “British legend.” Along with the Australia-born Rutherford, fondly referred to as a “ginger wizard,” they have been dubbed Britain’s “golden trio” for winning gold for their adopted country.
There is a sense that something profound has happened and, as The Times noted in a breathless editorial, “a new Britain is being born out of the best of the old Britain.”
“The prospectus that delivered the Olympics (to London) relied heavily on an account of a tolerant, multicultural Britain and it is as such that the success has followed, both inside the arenas and inside,” it said.
A year ago, Prime Minister David Cameron described Britain as a “broken society” suffering from “moral collapse” and suggested that “state culturalism” was the first step on the slippery slope to extremism. Today, he finds Britain an “inspirational country” that “makes people feel proud to be British.” He has spoken of the “awe-inspiring” performance of the multi-ethnic Team GB, and hailed London as the world’s most diverse city. A senior Conservative MP received a public dressing down for dismissing the opening Olympic ceremony as “multicultural crap.”
Many are mystified by the Prime Minister’s conversion and asking whether he is the same man who had warned that “passive tolerance” of multiculturalism was an invitation to extremism, and argued for a more “muscular” approach. “Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism,” he said at a security conference in Munich last year causing anger among immigrants back home.
Mr. Cameron’s new-found passion is simply a reflection of the national mood: he is saying what he believes people want to hear and will “connect” him to the masses. Partly that mood has been generated by the media, with newspapers making an extra effort to pick out “ethnic” faces to illustrate stories about the “wonderful” Olympic spirit that, among other things, has seen hundreds of Asian and African immigrants work as unpaid volunteers at the Games.
Even the notoriously xenophobic Sun is singing a refreshingly new tune. “Red, white, blue, black, brown, pink or purple — these Olympic Games have united us all,” it exulted in a report headed “Marvellous Modern Britain Unleashed Upon the World.” And, with the zeal of a new convert, added how the world had seen “the true colours of British greatness with champions of every hue — a mixed-race Yorkshire lass, a Muslim refugee and a ginger.”
“How can your heart not surge with pride when they win for Britain?” it asked.
At the rabidly anti-immigrant Daily Mail, it is a bit more hush-hush with the paper dressing up its celebration of Britain’s diversity as “conservative values in action.”
But it is celebration, nevertheless.
So, what does this sudden burst of love for multiculturalism signify? Is it an acknowledgment, finally, that in a country as diverse as Britain, multiculturalism alone can work, and a signal to the advocates of mono-culturalism to shut up shop?
An honest answer will be “no.” Sceptics warn against reading “too much” into what they believe is simply a passing phase — part of a general “feel-good” mood generated by the success of the Games and achievements of British athletes, especially those from ethnic groups. Those who know a thing or two about the fickle British temperament, mirroring its fickle weather, predict that “normal business” — i.e. moaning and carping — should resume once the Games get over this weekend.
The economy is getting worse by the day and cracks in the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition have widened while the country has been distracted by the Games.
“Just wait for the news to get out and see how quickly the euphoria evaporates,” warns an observer. But then who knows? The country may have changed this summer, and it could be the start of a deeper engagement with what the Sun and Mail patronisingly used to dismiss as “multi-culti” Britain.