Power of British Pride Truly Eludes Blair
December 27, 2006
by John O'Sullivan
LONDON -- Time is running out for British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He has promised to depart Downing Street to make way for his impatient and all-but-certain successor, Finance Minister Gordon Brown, by next summer. His political clout is therefore diminishing as Cabinet ministers and Labor backbenchers begin to calculate their actions in order to prosper within a Brown government. And the opinion polls all show that he and his government are distrusted and unpopular. Blair has therefore opted for Marshall Foch's response to a similar situation at the Battle of the Marne: ''My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.'' Blair's attack, however, is directed at his own Labor Party's deepest beliefs in state control and at some of the measures introduced by his own government.
In the last few months Blair has championed more-or-less independent schools within the state sector -- schools introduced originally by Margaret Thatcher that he abolished on coming to power in 1997. He has also fought for the introduction of more-or-less independent foundation hospitals within the state-run National Health Service -- hospitals introduced originally by Thatcher but abolished by Blair in 1997.
Yet these reversals are small warm beer compared to a speech he delivered two weeks ago recanting his and New Labor's faith in multiculturalism. To understand the high significance of this reversal you must understand that Blair's New Labor has been the party of two groups with an interest and/or faith in the doctrine that all cultures are equal and all worthy of equal respect by government.
Immigrant groups, in particular Muslim immigrants, have a clear interest in multiculturalism since it is the justification for the government grants that go to Muslim organizations and for the creation of ''faith schools'' paid for by the taxpayers but run by mullahs. The second group is middle-class left-wing intellectuals who have a deep faith in cultural equality as the only basis for a decent society.
Neither group has much time for British patriotism. Muslim immigrants are largely uninterested in it because British society has made no effort to interest them. Official multiculturalism has actually encouraged them to remain culturally and religiously separate. Besides, the concept of British patriotism has itself become so thin that there is very little to which immigrants could assimilate even if they wish to do so.
Left-wing intellectuals have been viscerally hostile to British patriotism ever since George Orwell pointed out that ''they take their cookery from Paris and their politics from Moscow.'' Multiculturalism has since then replaced communism as their substitute politics, but its anti-patriotic effect is perhaps deeper.
Both groups are influential in New Labor; neither wants to deconstruct official multiculturalism. For Blair to propose doing so suggests that there must be solid political reasons on the other side of the ledger. And that is the case.
The single most important factor driving a reconsideration of multiculturalism is the London subway bombings of last year. Four young men, members of moderately prosperous families, born in England, and entirely assimilated in British society, had murdered 52 fellow citizens as a political gesture against Britain and British foreign policy.
Even more worrying, opinion polls suggested that thousands of their fellow Muslims sympathized with their action and thought it justified. Both the bombers and their sympathizers had political identities that were anti-British and -- insofar as we can discern it -- rooted in a radical politicized version of Islam. Yet tolerance, democracy, the rule of law and political equality, though good things, are not distinctive British values at all. Americans, Australians, Indians, Canadians, and most Europeans subscribe to them with equal fervency. Insofar as they are distinctive, it is because they are rooted in a shared history and culture.
Once the British had pride in this history. And when they did, they had little difficulty in persuading others to embrace it. The four young men who planted bombs in the subway would then have served proudly as soldiers of the queen.
It is because the British have lost pride in themselves that they conceive of British identity as membership in a mildly left-wing social democratic club devoted to abstract principles such as ''tolerance.'' It is because they conceive of British identity in this neutral way that they have lost the ability to persuade others to assimilate to it. And because of that, discontented young jihadists murder people against whom they have no legitimate grievance.
Neither Blair nor New Labor understands this basic political fact. It runs up against all their natural political instincts. Unfortunately for the British, the other respectable political parties that used to understand these things, notably the Tories, have made a heroic effort to forget them.
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.
John O'Sullivan was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.
Click here to view the full list of Op-Eds & Blogs.