UK Politics

Goodhart again

The Guardian seem very excited by David Goodhart’s essay on diversity and have a series of responses in the paper today.

Some of the replies are entirely predictable but on the whole the debate puts pay to the myth that it is impossible to have a sensible discussion about immigration, race and national culture in the UK.

Once again Jeremy Seabrook makes some important points:

It is characteristic that the left (or progressives, as they now like to be known) should have awakened so late from their ideological sleep. They have only just noticed the dissolution of community, about 40 years after the reason for existence of places such as Burnley, Smethwick or Bradford had vanished. These towns, called into being by what they made in a national division of labour, lost their function with the dispersal of the sites of industrialism across the globe.

In the process, a new generation grew, detached from the making of things, in the interesting twilight that separates producers from consumers. The epic of labour disappeared, and instead of working, people got jobs. The sense of a shared collective endeavour dwindled.

A “solidarity” embodied now in the welfare state is only the institutionalised afterglow of old struggles that passionately energised people to build defences against the industrial system, which, though it diminished them, provided a sense of purpose in the provision of tangible daily necessities. The first waves of postwar migration came in order to prolong, for a few years, the profitability of these decaying industries.

By confronting a diversity that has been present for half a century but which progressives have lately discovered is a threat to social cohesion and shared values, they hope to re-take control of an agenda that has already been set by others.

Reading through the other responses in the Guardian, there seem to be two debates going on here. One is a direct response to Goodhart’s piece which as Bobbie has eloquently pointed out is riddled with weaknesses.

The other is long overdue discussion of what is called ‘multiculturalism’. Although I have used the phrase myself, I suppose a more accurate term would be liberal anti-racist strategies although some prefer the term ‘official anti-racism’.

My view is simply this – you don’t have to share Goodhart’s view that ethnic diversity presents a threat to the consensus supporting a welfare state in order to see that in many communities the well-meaning approach of enhancing differences rather than encouraging unity and integration has been a failure.

The left did set the agenda on this issue back in the 1970’s and its strategy to a large extent, in many communities has failed. It is not only the left’s ‘celebration of diversity’ which is to blame for the failure of integration in some towns and cities of course. Reluctance, suspicion and old fashioned racism from the host communities has been a factor of course and so has the lack of interest of some minority leaders, particularly religious leaders, in real involvement in their broader communities.

But I really don’t see how recognising these failures and putting a greater emphasis on integrating existing and future immigrant communities concedes any ground to racists. On the contrary it is the best way to defeat racism.