Thursday, August 24, 2006

Who moved my multi-cultural Britain?

Community Secretary Ruth Kelly this morning launched the latest attempt from Government to get its lobotomised head around community relations. There is of course a high level ‘commission’ of the great and greased involved. Cue endless luxury finger buffets and all day workshops with flipcharts, marker pens and post-it notes in acid colours. Sadly, I know well of which I speak as about eighteen months ago I attended the launch of their last pathetic attempt to get citizenry enthused about ‘community cohesion’ as they like to call it.

Together we can, combined the prodigious air-headedness of Hazel Blears and Kelly's predecessor David Miliband into one great confection of warm fuzziness and premature self-congratulation. This was before the bombs went off in London last year. Together we can sank into well-deserved obscurity. Government have obviously used the last year to reflect on this grave new world and come up with an altogether more stern-faced, but no less muddled approach.

‘We have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multi-culturalism to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness.’ Kelly announced. What? After all these years of grappling with what multi-culturalism meant and how to live with it, it’s all over. We’re to have ‘integration’ instead. There are so many elephants in this room that the only purpose it will usefully serve is to provide the raw materials for Chris Ofili’s next show.

I blogged on the subject of community relations a couple of days ago and, rather spookily I think, pre-empted Ms Kelly’s call for ‘honest debate’. I’ll keep an eye out for invitations to participate in these illuminating discussions.

One of my favourite books of last year was FT journalist Lucy Kellaway’s Who moved my Blackberry™. Deservedly sharing equal billing with R Kelly and her public pronouncements on this morning’s news programmes was the revelation that the Blackberry hand held computer is dangerously addictive. Who knew? Kellaway’s book started out as a popular column in the FT. In it she shamelessly lampoons her alter-ego Martin Lukes whose pathological devotion to and misuse of his Blackberry causes havoc in his professional and personal life.

The title originates from the popular American management book Who Moved My Cheese. This ill-conceived trifle is an allegory delivering a stupid imperative to flexibility, regardless of the circumstances. Two humans and two mice are fed by an anonymous benefactor from a room full of cheese. One day the cheese disappears without explanation. The mice respond by scuttling off in search of a new source of food. The humans show up day after day in the room where the cheese was, and bring themselves to the brink of starvation. This is perceived by the story teller as a stubborn refusal to accept reality and an inability to exercise flexibility in a world of change.

What I hope distinguishes us from mice is the ability to question injustice, a willingness to stand up to bullies if they are game to show their faces and the stoicism to risk our lives in the defence of what is right. I expect the new Commissioners for Integration and Cohesion, due to report back in June 2007, to spend their time chasing bits of Brie and Emmental around plates, sending emails on their Blackberries in the tea breaks and coming up with absolutely nothing in the least bit authentic, new or practical.

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