David Cameron's denunciation of "state multiculturalism" has been lauded in some quarters, damned in others. Both by predictable voices. In his Munich speech he criticised the "muddled thinking" that has led some parts of the Muslim community to become dangerously isolated from the rest of British society. But, judging by the text of his speech in Munich yesterday, he would appear to have very little idea - or be unwilling to admit - what "state multiculturalism" actually is. This is what he said:
Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.
But state multiculturalism is not a "doctrine". Multiculturalism is: broadly speaking, it is the contention that no-one culture is superior to any other, and that the idea of a "host community" whose values, practices and norms should take precedence over those of minority groups is to be rejected. It is that view of multiculturalism that Cameron was attacking. He was right to do so. But he is wrong to suggest that such a doctrine has been propounded by the state as an act of deliberate policy.
State multiculturalism is something different. Fundamentally, it is a job creation scheme. Its purpose is to provide work for quangos, bureaucrats, consultancies, administrators, target-setters, framers of legislation, enforcers, propagandists, advertising agencies, poster-designers and a high proportion of staff at the Guardian and the BBC. It provides work for Trevor Phillips. It also provides work for Melanie Phillips (for where would she be without multiculturalism to denounce?) State multiculturalism is premised, not on denying the idea of a national culture, but on using the laudable concept of non-discrimination to justify interference in ever-more areas of public, corporate and even private life, not because it wants to build a better society (although many of its practitioners have that belief) but because it provides its practitioners with a livelihood. Basically, it is a parasite. Like most successful parasites, it can thrive only at the expense of its host. And it will never be possible to persuade multiculturalists that they are wrong, for not only their personal philosophy but their homes and incomes depend upon keeping the show on the road.
Until he grasps this basic point, David Cameron's attempt to undo the effects of twenty years of state-sponsored multiculturalism - whose ill-effects his accurately describes - will be doomed to failure.