Labour’s Problem with Integration

December 14, 2012 3:10 pm

This week’s census data showed that the UK is becoming more diverse than ever. Much of the debate around the statistics has been about immigration.  That is an important discussion to have: the pace of immigration in the last decade has been very rapid, and there is a genuine need for new policy and political responses.

However, a more immediate and practical question for many people is how we live well together in this new world – how can newcomers integrate in ways which both help them to thrive and allow us all to build stronger communities? So it is good news that Ed Miliband addressed this question directly in his speech today. But it is clear, both from some of the reactions to the speech (or at least to the media coverage of it), and from the tendency for Labour politicians in the past to be rather quiet on questions of integration, that this is a difficult issue for Labour. So why is this?

The conspiracy theorists would say that Labour has been in thrall to minority interests because ethnic minorities tend to vote Labour (66% of ethnic minority voters voted Labour in 2010).  Aside from the fact that the conspiracy theories around Labour and immigration are manifestly untrue, this argument rests on the false assumption that the UK’s minorities are somehow opposed to integration: all the evidence suggests that this is not the case.

Labour has sometimes been hamstrung by a perceived tension between tolerance and a defence of ‘traditional’ communities. But this is a false choice.  In fact, there is a great deal of consensus about integration, from people with different political views and different personal backgrounds, and between immigrant and minority communities and everybody else: everyone should learn English, play by the rules, respect one another, and take as full a part in community life as possible. If that sounds obvious, that is because it is, but the frenzied debate about divided communities, segregation, and multiculturalism sometimes leads politicians and journalists to forget that.

It is also a false choice because, in most places, people are ‘rubbing along’ pretty well, and are much more comfortable with diversity than the media or politicians given them credit for.

None of this is to deny the real cultural anxiety about immigration that exists (particularly in some parts of the country), nor to suggest that any of this is easy, but is merely to remind everyone taking part in these debates that a) there is a fair degree of consensus about the objective and b) things are better already than is often suggested.

So integration might be uncomfortable territory for some people on the left, but it must be at the heart of any vision that claims the ‘one nation’ badge. Ed Miliband was right today to address the issue of integration directly, and to recognise people’s anxieties while also presenting an optimistic vision of a diverse and welcoming UK.

The challenge for Labour now is to take these ideas further, both in practical policy terms and in ‘big picture’ political terms – to suggest either that today’s speech contained a ‘comprehensive strategy for integration’ or that it has laid to rest Labour’s demons on the issue is being over-optimistic, to say the least.

The policy challenge is to develop the theme of the everyday that came through strongly in today’s speech, and to mainstream an integration agenda into thinking in other areas (education, housing, poverty reduction etc), while also recognising that most of this needs to be done by local government, or by communities themselves. The political challenge for Labour is to develop a more sophisticated account of how ‘One Nation Labour’ relates to a wider sense of national identity and purpose. So Ed Miliband deserves credit for today’s speech, but it must be the start of a conversation, not the end of one.

Sarah Mulley is Associate Director at IPPR

Latest

  • News Miliband unveils plans for “English Devolution Act”

    Miliband unveils plans for “English Devolution Act”

    After speaking at Scottish Labour’s Gala Dinner last night, Ed Miliband is in Manchester today to talk about English Devolution – and in particular, plans for an “English Devolution Act” and a “regional cabinet” made up of relevant Secretaries of State and leaders from major City and County Regions. The Labour leader will announce the following as manifesto commitments: An English Devolution Act, securing devolution to the English regions, transfer £30 billion-worth of funding over five years and building on Scottish and Welsh […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Bookies say Murphy is the odds-on favourite for Scottish Labour leader

    Bookies say Murphy is the odds-on favourite for Scottish Labour leader

    The contest for Scottish Labour Leader officially begins today, as candidate nominations open (they close on Thursday). We’re not expecting any further candidates to announce now, so the field is likely to be made up of Sarah Boyack, Neil Findlay and Jim Murphy. Ladbrokes have announced their odds for the contest and make Murphy an odds-on favourite, with Findlay in second place and Boyack as a long shot: Jim Murphy 1/2 Neil Findlay 2/1 Sarah Boyack 8/1 After the poor […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Afghanistan was a waste of life and money. Our politics won’t recover until we recognise that

    Afghanistan was a waste of life and money. Our politics won’t recover until we recognise that

    It’s happened many times before. The union flag is pulled down surrounded by anxious British soldiers. They hope the ‘natives’ they’ve handed power to will hold on to a British-friendly kind of order, but are desperate most of all to get home safely. The plaques recording the lives and deaths of fallen comrades are unscrewed and packed up, and a patch of desert goes back to dust. The British military say they have confidence in the Afghan army to hold […]

    Read more →
  • News Government must pay £1.7 Billion sum to EU, say LabourList readers

    Government must pay £1.7 Billion sum to EU, say LabourList readers

    Last Friday, news broke that the EU had recalculated the UK’s contributions to the supra-national organisation – and many people did not react well to discovering we owe another £1.7 billion. It was an “unnacceptable cash grab”, according to Mark Ferguson and new Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden voiced his displeasure at how the EU had gone about presenting the bill. Katharina Klebba, meanwhile, said that although this resembled a “bull-in-a-china shop mentality”, it was up to Labour to do […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Remploy – a year after the last closure

    Remploy – a year after the last closure

    A year ago today the last Remploy factory officially shut its doors. That was a sad day for me and thousands of other working people across the country. Since I left school at 16 I’d worked at Remploy Sheffield, starting out work as a welder and in recent years representing fellow workers as a GMB trade union convenor. For a lot of us at Remploy, the factories offered secure employment, the dignity of work and a workplace that understood our […]

    Read more →