I am in Barcelona, taking part in a conference on the future of immigration and integration policy, held by the Fundacio Rafael Campalans and FEPS, seeking to define a coherent left response to these challenges. Here is my speech to a session themed 'after the failure of the integration models'.
Thank you for inviting me here to Barcelona to discuss how to shape a coherent response to immigration and integration which can represent the values of the political left.
We have heard a lot from the political leaders of the centre-right on this subject.
Angela Merkel says that “multi-kulti” has “utterly failed”.
David Cameron in Britain has called an end to what he calls “state sponsored multiculturalism”.
President Sarkozy in France has chimed in to say that “multiculturalism has failed”.
The first thing to note is that they are saying similar things – but they are talking about different things.
European societies face common challenges. But our countries, and our regions and cities have different histories and global links, different patterns of immigration and emigration, different constitutional traditions of citizenship.
So we have had very different approaches to integration. If they really have all failed, the causes must be different.
The central distinctive feature of post-war German policy was the Gastarbeiter model. Economic migration was temporary. As Merkel said “we kidded ourselves a while, we said: they won’t stay, sometime they will be gone’ but this isn’t reality”. The German-born children of Turkish parents, were Turks, not Germans, expected to ‘go home’ even from the country of their birth. The German case is partly of inviting people to form a parallel society, and being concerned at getting this result. So German policy until recently was missing a crucial dimension of integration – the opportunity of equal citizenship.
The French approach was very different. But, whatever has failed in France, I doubt it was multiculturalism, to which France was so famously resistant seeing it as incompatible with the promotion of indivisible Republican citizenship. In 2007, President Sarkozy argued that the ban on collecting data on race or ethnic origins hampered attempts to measure inequality and tackle it. He now argues the opposite.: “we have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him”. I think he was right the first time. France has missed a different dimension of integration – it was vocal in articulating the values of Republican citizenship but unable to combine that advocacy with a socio-economic agenda to ensure the promise of equal citizenship was kept.
By contrast, the British did try multiculturalism – but we can no longer agree on what we were doing or why. Even within national debates, we see people using the same words to mean different things.
Prime Minister David Cameron says that multiculturalism was "the idea that we should respect different cultures within Britain to the point of allowing them – indeed encouraging them – to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream". He’s against that. But who would not be? Our Prime Minister takes a brave stance in joining the opponents of moral relativism, the adoption of Sharia Law and the abolition of Christmas. It would be braver still if we could find any serious advocates of what he is against. Advocates of multiculturalism saw it as promoting not the parallel coexistence of separate communities, but the creation of a shared, composite culture, in which if all recognised themselves all could contribute. The liberal Home Secretary Roy Jenkins famously defined multicultural integration, as "not a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance",
Yet this British debate has become confused, circular and largely pointless. One side has switched to adopt a continental European definition of multiculturalism as the pursuit of segregation; others maintain the earlier claim that it could help deliver integration. (The truth is probably that at different times, multiculturalism had both effects, It both gave new immigrants the confidence and cultural capital to integrate, particularly in the first two generations, yet also sometimes went beyond recognising different to incentivising it, as a way to stake a claim to recognition and resources).
We have a dialogue of the deaf. This may reflects some substantive differences, but this also often involves a wilful refusal to identify the potential for common ground. As Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Britain, has suggested, we end up having sharp clashes “even where people are in violent.agreement” And while the political elite bicker among ourselves about the meaning of this word or that, we risk ignoring what needs to be done, and the damage that might result from not doing it.
Europe’s political left has been uncertain and confused about how to approach these issues, as we have been hearing. How do commitments to equality and equalities fit together? Is there a clash between solidarity and diversity, between communitarian and cosmopolitan values? Does talking about immigration and identity just distract from the economic and social issues that really matter?;Can the left work out whether it has anything to say at all, which is not a simple echo of the right?
Let’s return to first principles ask: what type of society are we for?
I believe that we should be for an integrated society – and that this means being clearer about how social democrats judge the success of integration.
So what would make us an integrated society? Those of us from the left will naturally set a social justice test. We work for equal opportunity: we tackle barriers to equal life chances for all. So integration as a two-way street. The state can legitimately demand allegiance to the rules of a shared society, and has responsibilities to tackle discrimination so the promise of equal citizenship can be kept. The socio-economic dimension should lead us to see, for example, that fluency in a common language is not primarily a test of willingness to fit in with a dominant host culture, but surely a necessary passport without which full economic, political and civic participation in our societies is impossible.
But integration is not only about social equality, though many might find that a comfortable conclusion, particularly on the left.
I think that a more subjective test is also important too: integration is not just be about the vertical link between state and citizen but also our citizen—to-citizen links too. In an integrated society, we would experience ourselves as integral to a shared society. We should pay attention not only to social facts about integration and the pursuit of equal chances, and to feelings about belonging too.
A shared citizenship and an inclusive common culture must matter at least as much to the political left as to the political right. The political left does not just want to stop the sky from falling; we believe in societies which have collective projects, where we are ready to pool risks and protect each other from the worst risks in life. We will struggle to achieve that in a society which is segregated – whether by race or faith, or income and social class.
A darkening mood in British society
My view is that the mainstream parties on the left and right should recognise that they share responsibility tor integration – and should remember that how we talk about these issues can have effects in the streets.
Across the EU, we see harsh attitudes towards migrants. A recent Transatlantic Trends survey found the UK had the most negative attitudes of the major democracies. towards migrants of the major western democracies in the survey.
Britain has tended to be fairly confident about having relatively good race relations and a smaller present of the far right. In the broad sweep of post-war history, I think there is something in this generalisation. A detailed new study of British public opinion,Fear and Hope, carried out for the anti-fascist campaing group Searchlight warns against complacency about this.
By 60% to 40%, people say that, on balance, immigration has been a bad thing for Britain. Only a minority of 29% now say that in general, there are positive relationships between ethnic groups, with 71% saying "there is an increasing amount of tension between the different groups living in Britain".
What’s going on? There has been a pessimistic turn. We could be witnessing a potentially toxic cocktail of both cultural and economic pessimism.
This risks reversing recent progress. I remember, growing up, how anxious our debates about race and identity were twenty years ago. Foundational issues were in question: could you ever really be black and British? Within a generation, nobody could quite remember why the question had seemed so difficult. The black British presence increasingly appeared a settled, everyday reality, from sport and culture to business and politics. Now, sharp antagonisms over British Muslim identity and integration have repolarised these debates. New populist movements on the right argue that they are not concerned about race, but defending culture.
(This is not only a British phenomenon: the Transatlantic Trends study finds that Spain has the greatest distinctive pessimism about Muslim integration, with 54% of Spaniards saying immigrants in general integrate well, but only 21% saying this of Muslim immigrants).
Secondly, the mood has darkened again for reasons of economic pessimism - falling real incomes, austerity in public spending, sluggish economic recovery, and deep concerns especially about youth unemployment.
The danger of this combination of economic and cultural pessimism is captured in the Searchlight study, which segments the British population according to attitudes towards diversity.
Only a quarter of the population have liberal views on questions of immigration, identity and integration – 8% being defined as confident multiculturalists, and 16% as mainstream liberals.
A similar number, almost a quarter, are hostile to diversity – with 13% grouped as having ‘Active Enmity’ and 10% as ‘Latent Hostiles’.
A majority – 52% - were assigned to one of two ambivalent groups.
The Cultural Integrationists (24%) are a right-leaning group, mostly concerned about cultural implications - a loss of identity, order and authority – of diversity and multiculturalism. The Identity Ambivalents (28%) are concerned primarily about social and economic insecurity. This group tends to vote for the left. It contains most of the respondents from ethnic minority backgrounds. The poll was not the first to find that restrictive attitudes to immigration can be particularly strong among settled minority communities, with British Asians having more restrictive views on average than white Britons.
Signposts for a progressive response
So how should we respond?
(1) Firstly, we should resist making current pessimism a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I think it is worth noting the contrast with earlier surveys on race relations. In 2002, 59% of people said that Britain was a place with good relations between people from different ethnic backgrounds, with 20% disagreeing. Those from minority backgrounds were more optimistic – by 67% to 16%. And there were similar results in 2006 PDF file, a year after the July 2005 London bombings, with 61% support and 20% disagreeing (and only 2% disagreeing strongly), with 18% ambivalent. Again those from minority backgrounds were most confident of this - by 64% to 12%, with 16% neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
The immediate focus on unity and tolerance seemed successful, but attitudes may now be fragmenting. We need to understand whether and how attitudes seem to have deteriorated, if the new poll is accurate. But let’s note too that attitudes are not set in stone. If they have shifted significantly, the challenge must be to identify approaches which can successfully counter and reverse this, and shift them back.
(2) Similarly, we should be wary of a sense of “integration fatigue”, arising out of the mood music of these debates across Europe: the sense that ‘we have tried everything – and nothing works’.
Actually, quite a lot has worked. We also have histories of successful integration. These risk being written out of the script.
Of course, the TV news and other media emphasise the flashpoints over the mundane, everyday story of how we do live together. There is a risk between the debate becoming polarised between those who fear we’re going to hell in a handcart versus a Panglossian insistence that it will just turn out alright if we wait for the next generation or two. Integration happens – and sometimes faster than we think – but it doesn’t happen by magic. It also takes work, especially at the local level, especially in those areas where the pace of change has been fastest.
One reason we don’t get an evidence-based debate is that the facts may be more complex than it suits anybody to admit. We have debated whether we are “sleepwalking to segregation”. The truth is that, on most indicators, in most places, Britain has become more integrated not less. We have not seen the same levels of spatial segregation as are common in the US. Yet in some towns, it is correct to speak about a phenomenon of “parallel lives”, where two communities have minimal interaction. These places, along with those which have experienced the most rapid social changes, are the areas often most prone to social strife.
We sometimes stick to familiar categories which are out of date. The simple assumption of majority advantage and minority disadvantage no longer fits the complex patterns of advantage and disadvantage.
Those assumptions do still capture the social reality in prisons, mental health, and for children in care, traditional patterns of racial disadvantage remain stubbornly persistent and deeply troubling.
But other areas are very different. In education. some ethnic groups top the school league tables while others lag behind. Girls from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have seen the fastest improvements. Those from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to go to university, though less likely to go to the top universities. In politics, progress has been faster than anybody expected: the record number of non-white MPs in 2010. When over 10% of newly selected Labour candidates and the new intake of MPs are non-white, the ‘ethnic penalty’ in selections has been defeated, and the Conservative Party is catching up too.
The case for moving on from multiculturalism can be founded in its successes as much as its failures.
Thirdly, “let’s talk” about immigration. A clear willingness to open up discussion about immigration, not close it down, should be an important and clear message from the political left and from other progressive forces who want to change approaches and attitudes
There is a large element of caricature, with a smaller pinch of truth, in the idea that the liberal-left has sought to close down all public discussion about immigration. In any case, it is easy to show that, if anybody was aiming to do this, they certainly failed. At no time in the post-war period has there been anything other than a usually raucous and noisy public debate about immigration, with frequent bouts of legislation usually aimed at tightening entry criteria.
Progressives need to realise that they have an interest in more public discussion of immigration, and not less. We know that voters are hostile to immigration, and becoming more so, telling pollsters they want less of it. We know too that most of the same voters tend to acknowledge some economic demand and need: majorities want to keep the migrants who are economically useful. We know that there is suspicion of economic migrants claiming asylum status, and also an insistence that we have a responsibility to genuine refugees. We know that voters want governments to get a grip on the issue, but also that many acknowledge the undesirability of closing borders to immigration and emigration in the modern world.
If we are stuck with a debate around anxiety about whether immigration can be talked about or not, we would never, ever get close to a position where the public own or at least acknowledge the tensions, trade-offs and sometimes contradictions in their own views about immigration, as well as in the policy choices faced by governments. If people were to talk not only about their frustrations, but what they want to do about it, the conversation shifts somewhat from binary choices of yes or no to immigration to what are the necessary conditions of making immigration work. The conversations may often still be tough ones, but they are more likely to be one to which responses are possible.
Moreover, it is only by acknowledging the scale of concern about immigration, could we hope to do something else which is important: to separate frustrations about how immigration is managed from the blaming or scapegoating of immigrants and other minority groups - by accepting that there is a public responsibility to manage and address its social impacts on services.
(4) A core task for our political generation is to ensure we relegitimise the societies we have inevitably and irreversibly become.
Our argument must be values-based – and also recognise where people are. Different countries will have a different balance and mix of attitudes. But I imagine that the categories of liberals versus rejectionists, and both the economically and culturally anxious in between are probably relevant everywhere.
Let us distinguish between two goals.
1. We must confront and challenge extremism;
2. But if we are to expand the liberal minority over time, this will depend primarily on finding effective ways of addressing the economic and cultural concerns of those who are not confident they can join it.
I believe that this approach would help us to separate the ineradicable fact that ours have become irreversibly multi-ethnic societies from the legitimately contested questions of what policy responses we adopt in response to challenges of integration and immigration.
There has been a long-term, intergenerational decline in racism, but there remains a strong rejectionist minority in public attitudes. Almost one-fifth of Britons agree with the proposition of deporting all migrants, both legal and illegal. (That is somewhere in the middle for the EU as a whole). There is simply no possible real world response to those who reject the idea that our multi-ethnic societies are an irreversible reality.
In the case of Britain, even Enoch Powell acknowledged that the “send them back” debate was perhaps being made too late in 1968, and he said explicitly that this would be entirely out of time by the 1980s, when a majority of the immigrant-descended population would be British born. There is nowhere to send us back to.
It is important to acknowledge that many – and indeed most – concerns about immigration are not motivated by racism, but that does not entail pretending that there is not a racist minority. Indeed, those who want to make legitimate arguments for more restrictive immigration policies should share an interest in helping to confront and expose racist views.
But one way in which extremism is legitimised is a “whataboutery” where white far right and Islamist separatist groups feed off each other in stoking grievances to their mutual benefit. Yet much of our media and political debate chooses to divide over the question of whether the important problem we face is one of Islamist extremism, where non-violent extremism may provide a gateway towards violence, or rather a rising tide of anti-Muslim and Islamaphobic sentiment. It is surprising how few people suggest that we ought to be concerned about both, and about how these twin extremisms need and feed off each other.
One possible response would be to link campaigns against different types of extremism more closely. The Searchlight polling find that over two-thirds of people say that they regard English nationalist extremists and Muslim extremists as being as bad as each other, with support for positive campaigns to bring communities together, opposing all forms of extremism. This approach also avert the danger in the Prime Minister’s recent speech, of seeming to many to have said too little, perhaps inadvertently, about far right extremism, or conversely the reticience of left voices appearing to tolerate extremism from minority groups which they would rightly condemn if it came from the white right, so risking undermining their commitment to fundamental human rights.
So a sharp distinction should be made between isolating the absolutist rejectionists and the necessary task of responding to the economic and cultural concerns of the ambivalent groups. These require different strategies and messages.
Dealing with economic insecurity is to tackle a very deep-rooted question. Immigration is widely believed to be a primary cause of the problem, yet the evidence is that it is only a weak and partial contributor. The evidence suggests that technological change is more important, but much less visible.
One political response is to be more restrictive on immigration – the new British government is going beyond the points-system, which restricted low skilled migration from outside the EU; the new government will adopt an immigration cap. This will have economic effects – universities as well as business are concerned about its impact. The cap is broadly popular as an idea, since it symbolically speaks to some with cultural anxieties about immigration. It is rather less likely to significantly affect economic insecurity. Assessed simply from the perspective of the indigenous population, it will quite probably do more harm than good.
Economic insecurity will be a defining issue as centre-left parties seek a new political economy. Indeed, any party of the centre-left or centre-right which believes it is important to maintain a relatively open economy is going to have to pay greater attention to the distribution of market rewards, particularly if we enter a low growth era. How far economic insecurity is addressed may have a significant impact on anxieties about immigration, but there are limits to how far it can be addressed by immigration policy alone.
If we think creatively about strategies to expand the liberal group beyond its current core, we will never get very far if we think this depends on cosmopolitan values trumping national or local identity. That truly would be an exercise in preaching to the converted.
Perhaps the question to connect liberalism to the culturally anxious is this:
can we still be proud of the societies which we have become?
I have to think that we can be. I have to think so, but I think perhaps we all have to think so too. For me, this is informed by personal biography. My parents came to Britain from India and Ireland. There is some history in that: it is not by coincidence that I am British rather than Catalan, but immigration socities often have more shared history than we acknowledge. But I am a child of the National Health Service as much as the British Empire: my parents came to Britain to work for the NHS. The NHS in Britain is not just a public service; it is venerated as a kind of secular religion. Yet it would collapse without immigration. In this case, there is a broad public sense that we would have less to be proud of without immigration.
Crucially, I believe this argument can work even if we move beyond the social institutions with which the left is particularly comfortable. The Army has been shaped by immigration and integration, perhaps just as much as the NHS. Even, so often through our history, has the Monarchy, even if we don’t tend to think of the Queen of England as having married an immigrant.
I do not claim that these arguments could be a substitute for the hard work on the ground on integration. But they could help to found an emotionally resonant grounding for liberals to disarm cultural anxieties.
So one strategy for expanding the tolerant minority over time would be to use major public occasions to argue that we can all be proud of who we are today. One example in Britain will be next year’s London Olympics. We wouldn’t be hosting the world if we hadn’t told a story about our diversity. We have more to be proud of because of it. We project a hopeful story about London – pitched somewhere between reality and myth. What matters is that it is a myth that most of want to live by. The question for London is whether we can next year show that we also want to make it true.
Nothing we are proud of in our societies has been untouched by immigration and integration. But can surely make the case that we can be proud of who we are today. As we are here in Catalonia, I have to talk about FC Barcelona, not just as a great football club, but famously In the words of its motto, as “More than a Club”, the best known symbol of Catalan identity in Europe and the world. So did signing the Dutchman Johann Cruyff both as a player and coach dilute the essence of FC Barcelona? No, he symbolised and shaped it in two of the golden eras of the club’s history. Who could imagine him in the white of Real Madrid? Without this immigrant contribution, the great history of FC Barcelona would glitter a little less. The proudest Catalan Barcelona fan knows they would have less to be proud of without this immigrant contribution. Today, though nobody else’s team is quite as good as yours, there are similar stories to be told in almost every major city in Europe. Teaming with multinational talent, the clubs remain just as much sources of local pride as ever they were. But those who insist on rejecting on institutions contaminated by foreign influences who must find that they would have nothing left to be proud of as a result.
Integration finally will depend on a gradual and sustained effort to “de-other” immigration and desegregate our community relations. As we cheer on the immigrants who contribute to our teams, they are no longer “the other”. Our societies, countries, cities, and not only our football teams have changed. Yet we can still be us – and proud of It too. Perhaps, in microcosm, in the Nou Camp, we catch one small glimpse of what an integrated society would feel like.
Sunder Katwala is General Secretary of the Fabian Society. This speech was given to a conference of the Fundacio Rafael Campalans and FEPS ‘From Immigration policies to managing diversity’ held at the Picasso Museum, Barcelona on Friday 11th March 2011. The session ‘Beyond the failure of the integration models’ was introduced by Dani de Torres, who is responsible for immigration and intercultural dialogue for the City Council of Barcelona.