Wednesday 22 September 2010

Left must embrace integration argues new pamphlet

Whilst the political world gets deeper inside the conference season bubble, a new Fabian pamphlet out this week should remind all parties of the challenges that lie in store once the speechifying is over and parliament reconvenes.

Segregation is something that public policy has so far failed to deal with. “Britain is separate because it is unequal, and it is unequal because it is separate,” argues Nick Johnson, and only by joining up the campaigns for greater equality and a more integrated society will either be achieved. Johnson says Labour's new leader needs a coherent agenda on integration to build a public consensus for tackling inequality.

But Johnson makes a specific challenge to the Labour left: to get beyond the narrow identity politics of multiculturalism. This was the correct approach, he argues, in an era starting in the 1950s when “a small number of clearly identifiable minorities…had made a once-in-a-lifetime decision to move to Britain.” The left now needs to come to terms with an approach for people with “dual or multiple nationalities and loyalties, with some people regarding their social networks as being half way around the world as well as down their street”.

“Integration offers a progressive approach to the social challenges of the twenty first century. It offers us a way to reject a narrow conservatism that tries to erode diversity into a monolithic whole. However, it also is how we can move beyond the identity politics that has been sustained by many on the left. These two schools of thought are set up in opposition to one another and thus a prisoner of each. Identity politics was a legitimate challenge to a conservatism that did not want society or institutions to change and demanded conformity from new immigrants or other groups in society. At its extreme, this conservatism turns into xenophobia, racism and overt prejudice. The left’s response was and is correct - rightly asserting that different views, lifestyles and cultures are equally legitimate. However, in rejecting an assimilationist approach that privileged the status quo and was resistant to change, too great an adherence to identity politics also implicitly rejected notions of a shared identity and experience. What made us different became more important than what we had in common. As the human genome project asserted, we are all 99.9 per cent the same. It is time that we focussed on that common humanity.

We need to move beyond these two debates. Just as we should oppose a socially constructed and anachronistic view of a status quo that rejects diversity, we must also reject the idea that it is our individual identity that is all that matters. The choice must not be between a forced assimilation and a laissez-faire multiculturalism. Integration is about a different approach. It says we can both celebrate our differences but that we must also celebrate what we have in common.”

The set-to at Lib Dem conference about free schools – and the evidence that these may be a path to greater segregation – highlighted how important considerations about segregation need to be to policy making and politics, as does the ongoing Phil Woolas case.

Read more about the pamphlet here.

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