However, we disagree with much of what Mr Phillips said on this issue at a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference in Blackpool this week. Mr Phillips has adopted some new thinking since taking up his post - and especially since the terror attacks on London in July. A few weeks ago, he argued that Britain was "sleepwalking" into US-style segregation in which there was no meaningful mixing between ethnic groups. This is needlessly alarmist. Britain has one of the highest rates of ethnic intermarriage in Europe. And as a measure of how much Mr Phillips has changed his views, it is worth noting that in March this year he was advocating separate tuition for underachieving black boys. Would that be compatible with a policy of forced integration?
Mr Phillips has also begun to question the concept of "multiculturalism". This is dangerous. In many ways, multiculturalism is simply a fact of life in modern Britain. Its staunchest opponents tend to be those who are disdainful of what our country has become. And those who stress the need to "impose" British values on ethnic minorities are often the same people who demonise immigrants. No concessions should be made to bigotry.
Yet there is a case for clarifying what we mean by multiculturalism and forging a consensus on the sort of society we desire to live in. But much of what the head of the CRE said this week was baffling. At the Tory conference he called for a "highway code" of ethnicity to guide people through the cultural and religious differences in modern Britain. But this would fast become a source of resentment and, ultimately, please no one.
Mr Phillips also questioned whether it is offensive for judges to call black or Asian people "coloured". Many would argue that it is. Mr Phillips went on to suggest there is a problem with firms shutting down for "minority religious holidays" such as Yom Kippur. That will come as news to many employers.
For some reason Mr Phillips appears to be pandering to the tired "political-correctness-gone-mad" agenda of the right-wing press. We need a serious debate about the state of community relations in this country. Mr Phillips deserves credit for helping initiate that discussion. But much of his new thinking ends up falling into a familiar old trap.Reuse content