Ruth Kelly & The Commission on Integration and Cohesion

by grumpydoc

Ruth Kelly

On 24 August, 2006, Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly launched the new Commission on Integration and Cohesion, her speech follows, along with some of my thoughts.

Welcome — and thanks to all of you who have come here today to launch the Commission on Integration and Cohesion.

I want to start by saying that I believe that Britain’s diversity is a huge asset to our country — economically, culturally and socially.

The familiar Left-wing mantra that, if stated often enough, we are expected to believe? After five decades of mass immigration is there not proof of the magnitude of the benefit to our country, or is conclusive proof still lacking? Just by saying it often enough doesn’t mean it’s true.

Immigration has helped transform our economy, supporting growth and boosting productivity. London’s strength as a financial centre — as I am keenly aware from my time at the Treasury — was driven by the acknowledgement across the developed world that Britain was open to new people, to new ideas and to new products.

The oft-repeated justification for mass immigration: the economic benefits. Where’s the proof? According to Professor Rowthorn of Cambridge University the benefits of lage-scale immigration are ‘either close to zero, or negative’. In 2004, along with Professor Coleman of Oxford University, he wrote a paper published in Population and Development Review entitled The Economic Effects of Immigration into the United Kingdom, the conclusion being, ‘the economic consequences of large-scale immigration are mostly minor, negative, or transient, that the interests of more vulnerable sections of the domestic population may well be damaged, and that any economic benefits are unlikely to bear comparison with immigration’s probable substantial and permanent demographic and environmental impact’.

London’s strength as a financial centre is not due to mass immigration, the free-flow of capital through trading and financial services is responsible. Any immigration related to this is not of the nature or magnitude that this country has experienced. The vast majority of immigrants to Britain have not been educated bankers, accountants, commercial or corporate lawyers, or financial dealers. What may be true for London’s financial centre is not true for our country overall.

Immigration has helped enrich our cultural life, with the capital’s diversity now commonly acknowledged to be one of its key attractions. A weekend spent at the Notting Hill Carnival or exploring Brick Lane are attracting tourists and residents alike.

I’m not sure about Brick Lane attracting tourists. Ms Kelly is presumably talking about the same Brick Lane where, earlier this year, local businessmen led by Abdus Salique — a shop owner, restaurateur and member of the local Labour Party — warned that a film company was not welcome to shoot scenes for the film Brick Lane. The younger generation of the community were described as ‘hostile and very militant’, a state of affairs that Britain is having to get used to. Brick Lane seems to be welcoming only to residents of a certain religious and ethnic disposition and I doubt it is an attractive tourist destination.

As for the Notting Hill Carnival, — described as ‘hell for residents’ — one only has to remember the riot of 1976 due to police enforcing the Law, along with problems with street crime in subsequent carnivals, noise, rubbish, and public urination in dustbins. Not, I think, the best advert for cultural enrichment. The cost of policing the 2005 Notting Hill Carnival was estimated at £4,726,485.

And migrant workers have been vital to supporting our public services, providing critical staff to our hospitals and schools, as well as other essential services. As the Prime Minister has said: “far from always or even mainly being a drain on our health and education systems, they are often the very people delivering them”.

And following on from the mythical economic benefits we have the ‘vital jobs’ argument. The question that needs asking is why are indigenous workers not taking up such jobs? The answer is obvious, pay and conditions are not attractive enough so low-wage immigrants are brought in. This keeps down costs but marginalises the low-skilled working class who have to compete with immigrants, their choice being unemployment and surviving on welfare or low pay. The very communities within society that the Labour Party are supposed to represent are being damaged by Labour’s policies of mass immigration. If mass immigration was not allowed, then pay and conditions would have to improve until sufficient numbers of indigenous workers found them sufficiently attractive to fill the vacant posts.

And I believe that we should celebrate and clearly articulate the benefits that migration and diversity have brought — but while celebrating that diversity we should also recognise that the landscape is changing, changing rapidly. And we should not shy away from asking — and trying to respond to — some of the more difficult questions that arise.

I have not seen any reason to celebrate so far, the benefits are illusory and diversity is leading to the fracturing of society into enclosed communities with their own values antithetical to the majority and resisting any integration. According to Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission For Racial Equality, the ‘anything goes‘ multiculturism’ so beloved of the Left ‘leads to deeper division and inequality’ and that this country is sleepwalking to segregation. Who is to blame? The very politicians who allow mass immigration and lecture us on tolerance, diversity and the benefits of multi-culturism.

I believe it is time now to engage in a new and honest debate about integration and cohesion in the UK. If we are to have an effective, progressive response to these issues, then we must be honest about the challenges we face and be prepared to meet these head on with renewed energy and impetus.

Does that mean that the debates of the past were dishonest? Why have we not had ‘a new and honest debate’ in the past? Until now, discussion of immigration and its consequences has been suppressed by the Left with anyone trying to discuss the issues automatically being labelled racist. How kind of our politicians to now allow us a debate, especially when things are going bad. The correct time for such a debate would have been at the start, before significant immigration had occurred.

Thirty years on from the Race Relations Act and the Commission for Racial Equality, the context of today’s society arguably poses some of the most complex questions we have ever faced as a nation.

The reality is that not one but three race relation acts have been passed since 1965 with an amending act in 2000. Along with the multiple legislation has come quangos, commissions and the whole panoply of monitoring and outreach, diversity and equality workers — a veritable industry — but we still have ‘complex questions’ to solve. Countries that have not allowed such mass immigration that Britian has had to endure does not require such legislation, support non-productive public bodies, associated workers and have ‘complex problems’ to solve.

Patterns of immigration to Britain are becoming more complex. Our new residents are not the Windrush generation. They are more diverse, coming from countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from South Africa to Somalia.

The only reason immigration is ‘complex’ is because successive governments have allowed it to become so. A country that has control over its borders and a clear policy on immigration is able to face the challenges of increasing pressure from immigration.

And one of the outcomes of that complexity — and increased global interconnectedness — is that global tensions are being reflected on the streets of local communities. New migrants protect the fierce loyalties developed in war-torn parts of Europe. Muslims feel the reverberations from the Middle East. Wider global trends have an impact. Some new migrants will put down roots. Some will move on, and find other work or return to their families.

As time passes, the challenges of integration become more apparent to those who have settled here. Second and third generation immigrants can face a struggle. Not to adapt to life in the UK — but to reconcile their own values and beliefs with those of their parents and grandparents. Young people may be seen as Pakistani on the streets of Burnley, but many feel out of place and “British” when they visit Pakistan.

The reality of the ‘complexity’ is that Britain has enclaves of unintegrated immigrants that identify more with their countries of origin than with Britain, the results of which we are currently suffering.

And for some communities in particular, we need to acknowledge that life in Britain has started to feel markedly different since the attacks on 9/11 in New York and on 7/7 in London — even more so since the events of two weeks ago.

And as this complex picture evolves, there are white Britons who do not feel comfortable with change. They see the shops and restaurants in their town centres changing. They see their neighbourhoods becoming more diverse. Detached from the benefits of those changes, they begin to believe the stories about ethnic minorities getting special treatment, and to develop a resentment, a sense of grievance.

‘White Britons’? Ms Kelly makes the indigenous majority sound like a band of immigrants imported from some goat-herding province of Pakistan! According to the Office for National Statistics the white population accounts for 92·1% of the total population of the United Kingdom.

As for not feeling comfortable with the change occurring within Britain, it’s nothing new. What’s new is that politicians have finally deigned to recognise the reality. Consider, for instance, white flight; that unspoken but very real response of the British to significant settlement of immigrants in local communities. Although Lipton and Power (2001) have recently identified white flight in a report entitled Minority Ethnic Groups in Britain, this response of the British to immigration was reported to the Home Office as early as 1957 but it was just ignored for as long as possible, just like the opinions and concerns of the majority British population. Now, due to certain religious and ethnic groups destroying multi-culturism from within, politicians are finally recognising the real concerns and problems.

The issues become a catalyst for a debate about who we are and what we are as a country. About what it means to live in a town where the faces you see on the way to the supermarket have changed and may be constantly changing.

A debate that politicians such as Ms Kelly has tried to suppress for too long.

I believe this is why we have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness.

There has never been a uniform consensus on immigration or multi-culturism within this country, just that the dissenting voices have been derided or ignored.

Trevor Phillips and others have put forward these points of view. These are difficult questions and it is important that we don’t shy away from them.

And until recently Trevor Phillips et al. have been expressing opinions completely opposed to those they now promote: the modern-day Vicars of Bray.

In our attempt to avoid imposing a single British identity and culture, have we ended up with some communities living in isolation of each other, with no common bonds between them?

Why the question mark for what is fact?

I think we face the clear possibility that we are experiencing diversity no longer as a country, but as a set of local communities. Each experiencing changes in a different way, with some being affected more than others.

What a surprise! We are no longer experiencing diversity as a country because it is so divisive.

It is on this ground that this Commission can add most value. It is not, and must not be, a talking shop. It is a practical exercise which will look at what actually works for communities on the ground. It will act as a catalyst for change, by ensuring that, not only do we know what works, but that we are able to share this information and “scale up” those things that really make a difference.

Perish the thought that a Commission set up by this government could ever just become a talking shop, it’s not like that’s happened before.

The Commission has a new and more complex set of challenges to address. It will need to think about both people, and place. About established communities, and those that have yet to develop a resilience to change.

It is our responsibility to make sure that the Commission can engage with the latest and most innovative policy interventions. And that it can build on the best examples of local areas where community cohesion is working.

It will also look at how we can encourage local authorities and community organization to play a greater role in ensuring new migrants better integrate into our communities and fill labour market shortages. For example, increasing the availability of English teaching, mapping where local jobs exist, ensuring that migrants are able to develop a sense of belonging, with shared values and local understanding, as we underline their responsibility to integrate and contribute to the local community.

There are already communities rising up to tackle these issues and equipping themselves for the changes they face.

There are school twinning programmes, and sporting events across the country that focus on children mixing at an early age. Local communities are developing Charters of Values, or local Citizens’ Days, that aim to develop a sense of belonging in multicultural towns and cities. And there are community-led projects springing up in communities facing cohesion challenges that focus on mediation and conflict resolution — learning from the best international practice.

And there are more specialised projects such as the work in Bradford aimed at developing a citizenship curriculum for Madrassas. Or examples of private sector organisations getting involved in cohesion by running mentoring schemes for people of all ethnic and faith backgrounds.

What we need to do is to consolidate these pockets of good practice and spread the lessons learnt much further. Then we can begin to develop a more consistent national picture.

Bingo! Sorry, I got so bored with the New Labour management spiel I was playing Bullshit Bingo and got a full card.

Finally, there are questions about the debate itself. It will have considerably more value if we can be open and honest about the challenges we face. We must not be censored by political correctness, and we must not tiptoe around important issues.

For example, it is clear that we need a controlled, well managed system of immigration that has clear rules and integrity to counter exploitation from the far right. I agree with the Home Secretary: it is not racist to discuss immigration and asylum. There are challenging, legitimate issues we need to talk about and debate. That debate, however, must be based on fact, not myth. How do we establish the necessary trust and maturity to allow this?

It is also clear that our ideas and policies should not be based on special treatment for minority ethnic or faith communities. That would only exacerbate division rather than help build cohesion. And as a society we have to have the confidence to say no to certain suggestions from particular ethnic groups.

Fine words, but actions will speak louder; I won’t be holding my breath.

But at the same time, to make sure everyone can be treated equally, there are some programmes that will need to treat groups differently. We must, again, be unafraid to say this plainly when it is plainly the pragmatic truth. Which is why the cross-Government race and cohesion strategy ‘Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society’ is so critical.

It was too good to last.

And I also want to see a clear understanding that although fundamental rights must be equal for everyone, with rights come responsibilities. Even within a framework of mutual tolerance, I believe that there are non-negotiable rules, understood by all groups, both new and established. We must be clear and unafraid to say that we expect these will be shared and followed by all who live here.

Is this the rare case of a politician developing some common sense?

Like it or not, these are all questions that will shape our society and our public debates more and more in the coming years.

As they should have been allowed to do so from the 1950s onwards.

And we start with some positive signs. Not only the readiness of Commissioners to engage with this body — for which I am grateful. And not only the ideas that are already flowing in from local communities who want their projects to be considered as part of its work.

But evidence at a national level, via the regular Government Citizenship Survey, which consistently shows that people who live in the most ethnically diverse areas are the ones that have the most positive perceptions of ethnic minorities. It seems that those who are the most frightened about change are those that have been least exposed to it.

Integration and cohesion are not states but processes. They need to be worked at, built up and nurtured. We need to ensure that we are encouraging interaction between communities, and enabling people off all backgrounds to participate in wider society and institutions.

Back to Bullshit Bingo.

So, integration and cohesion are not issues just for people from ethnic minorities. Those who seek to cause conflict and tension in our communities must be marginalised by the responsible majority. That means everyone is involved. We need to recognise that there remains more that binds us together than pulls us apart.

What if the ‘responsible majority’ want no more mass immigration? It looks like Ms Kelly is going to introduce the Chairman of this new Commission, with all she’s said above I’m sure it will be someone from the majority population of this country.

I’m now going to hand over to Darra [Singh], who has important local experience to bring to the Commission. I look forward to reading his recommendations.