The Conservatives are becoming increasingly desperate. As a recent header in The Times (2 December) put it: Tories fear slow death as nothing shifts the polls. Could some anti-migration rhetoric help them?
Somebody who has never refrained from inflammatory rhetoric is Suella Braverman, our former home secretary sacked after having criticised the Metropolitan Police. Just a few weeks earlier Braverman had attacked multiculturalism as a failure and as a threat to the UK and Europe. She echoed the infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech by Enoch Powell.
It is my view that most people actually enjoy cultural pluralism, that is living in a society enriched by different cultures and not stained by racial prejudice.
Eating out would be boring if the range of ethnic restaurants disappeared. Going to the cinema or to theatres would be less appealing if there were only British acts performed by British actors. Strictly-come-dancing would be boring without the range of dances originating from other countries. Our national sport teams would also be much weaker without the contribution of players from migrant communities. Speaking more than one language is a great asset.
Migration is a common phenomenon: many British people have migrated to other countries, whilst many migrants have come to live in the UK. Most governments have pursued a policy of integration of migrants, which is somewhat different from assimilation.
Integration and core values
Integration means that migrants retain elements of their distinctive cultures but adopt the core fundamental values of the host country.
What are these core values? Learning the language of the host country is a key prerequisite to become part of a new society. The ability to profess any religion, or no religion, and the ability to criticise any religion is a fundamental freedom. Other critical values are equal rights for women, LGBT+ rights, and the rejection of enforced marriages.
The process of integration changes and enriches the society that migrants have joined. What would London be without events like Notting Hill Festival? What the UK would be without fish and chips, a food whose introduction is attributed to Jewish immigrants?
When you have a sensible conversation, most people acknowledge the positive impact of migration and the value of a multicultural society. Some though argue that the process of integration may have sometimes faltered, with the creation of “parallel societies”. This term describes a situation in which some immigrant groups have almost segregated lives with minimal interactions with the wider society.
Some have expressed fears that the existence of parallel societies might be conducive to “hotbeds of radicalisation” and Islamic extremism. Equally concerning, though, has been the rise of Islamophobic hate crimes and right-wing extremism.
Some of the policies pursued by the current government have made integration of immigrants more difficult. Asylum seekers have been detained in inhospitable or remote centres, like the Legionella-infested barge, whilst asylum applications have been delayed or denied using schemes, like the Rwanda deportation, that the UK Supreme Court has declared illegal.
Would it not be better to start immediately introducing asylum seekers to our values so that, instead of generating bitterness, we can explain from the outset that applying for asylum, or a work visa, requires acceptance of the core values of our society?
The Conservatives, as well as Labour, have been supporters of faith schools. Faith schools might have been acceptable at one time, however, there are now Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu schools: this facilitates the creation of ‘parallel societies’. Multi-faith or secular schools are a better option to facilitate integration.
Government’s approach to refugees
Rishi Sunak’s approach to the refugee crisis has been shameful. The Lib-Dem MP Alistair Carmichael has described Sunak’s Rwanda scheme as “immoral, ineffective and incredibly costly for taxpayers”.
This government has focused on culture wars, rather than the real problems. Sunak has been divisive, and his policies do not facilitate integration.