Integration, Disadvantage and Extremism: parliamentary report launch

Yesterday, the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism hosted a parliamentary launch of our report on integration, disadvantage and extremism, edited by David Feldman and me. David and I presented the report to the integration minister, Stephen Williams MP, and a small audience of MPs,  lords and officials. The event was chaired by John Mann MP. The report was published in May by the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism and COMPAS.

Here is the text of what I said.

My job today is to say a few words about the recommendations made in this report. David finished on the importance of the role of central government in promoting and shaping integration in the UK. Running through our recommendations is a commitment to two related principles: the responsibility of leadership in combating extremism and the importance of evidence in making policy.

One of the central recommendations of the report, therefore, is listening to the grievances that drive intolerance in our society. The evidence collected in this report shows that grievances relating to disadvantage provide fertile ground for intolerance and division. To combat intolerance, therefore, we need to understand and address its social contexts.

For instance, Oxford sociologist Professor Anthony Heath shows that disengagement from the British mainstream is a function of what he calls the “integration paradox”: This paradox sees not Muslim migrants, but their objectively more “integrated” British-born children, becoming more sensitive to the inequalities of opportunity facing them in British society. Similarly, Vidhya Ramalingam, in collecting the evidence on far right extremism, shows that the appeal of the far right is not necessarily to the most disadvantaged among the white working class, but to those who are socially integrated in their communities but feel left behind by a rapidly changing Britain and distrustful of authority. We make a mistake, therefore, if we simply dismiss as ‘prejudiced’ those who are drawn to racist and extremist programmes – whether among the white or Muslim populations – as if they are fantasists. Rather we should see them, in general, as responding to real problems but with the wrong answers.

This points to a second key recommendation too: the importance of a whole community approach to integration, led by national government, to re-engage with those feeling left behind or disengaged. Not by targeting ‘problem’ minorities – an approach which reproduces the flaws of a divisive state multiculturalism: stigmatising groups, driving grievances and competition, promoting division over cohesion. But instead by calibrating mainstream policy levers towards ensuring that no group is left out of a concern for social mobility and social justice. For example, it is not integration policy but housing and schools policy that will stop a drift towards segregation where it occurs; it is not integration policy but employment policy that will reduce the growing gaps in employment outcomes across the population.

As MPs know from their constituencies, integration – or a lack of it – is experienced at a local level, on the streets of Britain’s towns and cities. But a national strategy is critical if we are to have any chance of overcoming the barriers to integration that create the conditions in which extremism festers. A national strategy isn’t necessarily about a new national funding programme. A national strategy is settingout detailed, concrete, substantive actions – for example, to narrow gaps in socio-economic and educational outcomes, or to eliminate segregation in schools and neighbourhoods, or to build a shared civic culture – but also a coherent methodology for measuring progress based on robust data: such a smart approach is the only cost-effective approach to doing social policy in a time of austerity. Again: the responsibility of leadership, grounded in evidence-based policy-making.

A third recommendation to put this responsibility into effect is around the way we communicate these issues. The kinds of grievances which give rise to softer forms of racism are often driven by inflamed discourse, by debates based on perceptions and assertions rather than facts. To this end, we all have a responsibility to promote evidence-based, balanced and open discussion and debate. This means finding a way to re-engage communities while using language that does not alienate, but rather speaks to their concerns about fairness, equality and justice: not lecturing about prejudice or common values, not dismissing grievances as “bigoted”, for example, but instead addressing their substance.

This approach builds on the record of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, which has worked to develop guidelines on electoral conduct and on hate speech in campuses.

In widening the focus from antisemitism to other forms of intolerance and extremism, this might mean, for instance, taking care in the use of numbers – inaccurate presentation of information leads to divisive debates and bad policy-making.

It might mean avoiding terms such as ‘native population’ – which can obscure the contribution and strong British identification of long-settled minority populations and conflate nationality with ethnicity.

And it might mean avoiding speaking of Britain’s diverse population as if it is composed of discrete and homogenous entities – ‘Muslim communities’ or ‘white working class communities’ – given that similarities across and differences within such communities are often at least as significant. Such terms, in failing to recognise the diversity and range of voices and positions within such populations, also fail to address the real structures of disadvantage that shape their experiences.

Addressing these structures of grievance is the best – the only – way to take forward the imperative to tackle all forms of intolerance in our society.

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About bengidley

Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Science, History and Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. View all posts by bengidley

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