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UK politics

The great misunderstanding about multiculturalism

Braverman: channelling Angela Merkel. Leon Neal/Getty

Multiculturalism has failed. After Suella Braverman made this assertion to a US audience on Tuesday, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph, British liberals “erupted in scandalised outrage”. Their fury is “puzzling”. The Home Secretary was only quoting the longstanding darling of UK progressives, Angela Merkel, widely revered as a “voice of decency and reason”. Yet in 2010, when Merkel announced that multiculturalism had failed – in “those very words” – there was no raging horror, and nobody denouncing her as a “dangerous fascist”. One Guardian columnist “politely disputed” her conclusion, while The Independent suggested she was being “too hard” on Germans.

Why are people so much angrier with Braverman than they were with Merkel? It surely can’t be because they consider it “worse when a non-white person criticises multiculturalism”, or that, since she is the daughter of immigrants, it’s “rude of her to complain”. After all, “that would be racist”. The truth is that the left and the right understand multiculturalism in different ways. When liberals use the word, they mean “communities all mixing happily together”. When conservatives use it, they tend to mean the opposite: “communities living separately” and failing to integrate. Now, I happen to think, unlike Braverman, that Britain is “remarkably well integrated”. But I don’t think simple disagreement accounts for the left’s “blistering fury”. It’s because Braverman was asking questions they can’t answer: if mass migration continues, how will we build enough houses, schools and hospitals? And if we don’t build them fast enough, what happens? It’s much easier to dismiss these questions as “hateful and racist”. That way, “you don’t have to think about them”.