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 Roy Hattersley defends Miliband over NHS election focus

    Roy Hattersley defends Miliband over NHS election focus

    Former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley has leapt to Ed Miliband’s defence, after the current leader received criticism from former ministers this week for relying on the NHS too much as an election issue. Alan Milburn and John Hutton made public their scepticism about Labour’s plans for the NHS, with former Health Secretary Milburn saying “major reform” was needed in the health service. Following Neil Kinnock’s call for an end to “sniping from behind”, Hattersley has also come forward to attack […]

    Read more →
  • News Wales Former Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy announces retirement

    Former Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy announces retirement

    Paul Murphy, MP for Torfaen, has announced he will stand down from Parliament in May. Murphy has represented the constituency for 28 years, since first being elected in the 1987 election. He served as Secretary of State for Wales twice, under both Blair and Brown: his first stint between 1999 and 2002 was followed by another 18 months in the role between 2008 and 2009. He also served as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland between 2002 and 2005, and […]

    Read more →
  • Featured We must ensure that disabled people get to cast their votes

    We must ensure that disabled people get to cast their votes

    By Stephen Twigg MP and Kate Green MP There are around 11 million disabled voters in the UK. In a few weeks, they will have the opportunity to go to the ballot box and have their say on the future direction of our country. Between now and May 7th, it is imperative that we do all was can to ensure their voice is heard. Our democracy is becoming increasingly inaccessible. Over the last year, as the Government have rushed the […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing – and now’s the time to fight.

    The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing – and now’s the time to fight.

    Every day matters. Every single day between now and 7th May, thousands and thousands of Labour activists will be out on the doorsteps fighting this general election one street at a time. But through the cold and the rain and the dark nights, this fight isn’t just about the Labour Party, it’s about the millions of people we got into politics to represent. It’s about the people whose doors we knock on – the young woman worried about whether her […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Future Jobs of Britain: Ensuring everyone has a stake

    Future Jobs of Britain: Ensuring everyone has a stake

    We believe a Britain where everyone can do well for themselves and achieve their aspirations – where the next generation does better than the last – is the right vision for Britain.  We can only realise this goal if we build an economy which raises living standards for all working people, not just a few at the top. We certainly haven’t seen this under a Tory led Government, but we are clear that this is the destination of the next […]

    Read more →