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Building inclusive communities

by Rosie Carter and Nick Lowles

HOPE not hate’s exclusive polling lays bare the extent of fears and anxieties about multiculturalism and integration in the UK.

Two fifths of Britons do not think multiculturalism is working. Slightly more, 43%, think that relationships between different communities within the UK will get worse over the next few years, while just 14% believe things will get better. 

A depressing 40% of people think Enoch Powell’s dire predictions of communities at war with one another has proved to be correct. Only 41% of people think he was wrong.

It is clear we still have a long way to go to lift pessimism about modern, diverse Britain.

HOPE not hate believes that understanding where we are now, no matter how grim the figures may look, is essential to improving things. But we also know that action is needed.

Issues around integration are some of the major challenges facing the social fabric of this nation. With perceptions that integration is failing, coupled with a rapidly changing population, there is no issue that is more important for society to get right. For if we cannot get integration right now, what hope do we have by 2050 when the BAME population is expected to reach 36%?

Today, 50 years on from Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech, HOPE not hate is launching a new Integration initiative to challenge the growing perception that integration is failing and a concerted right wing narrative that multiculturalism cannot succeed because of the inherent incompatibility of Islam with western culture, which is becoming increasingly mainstream.

The project will recognise the many serious challenges we face around integration and it will not shirk from addressing difficult issues. Our integration project will be a multi-faceted operation, combining research, polling, policy engagement, highlighting good practice and working in local communities.

Our integration project is built around six key elements:

1. Engaging with political and policy debate

We will engage in the political and policy debate around integration. With opinion polls showing that most people have a pessimistic view on integration and each terrorist attack further reinforcing this view, politicians and policy makers are continually rethinking how best to create a more cohesive society.

In 2010 David Cameron announced that muscular liberalism should replace multiculturalism, which he said had failed. In 2016, the Casey Review called for the traditional integration approach to be replaced by assimilation.

In 2017, in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack, Theresa May conflated integration with violent extremism. Just last month, the Government released a Green Paper on integration which changed approach yet again and reverted to a more traditional two-way street approach to integration. Government ministers and policy makers are clearly divided on the issue.

Few progressive voices are heard in these processes, and with many people preferring to focus on implementing integration at local level there is a real absence of debate and ideas emanating from more moderate voices at a national level.

While there has been understandable frustration with the nature and focus of much of the Integration debate, particularly with how it is often reported in the press, we believe there has been no better time to engage with politicians and policy makers to offer a positive approach.

2. Developing messaging to challenge the narrative that multiculturalism has failed

Pessimism on these issues is unsurprising given public and political debate, much of which reinforces an argument that multiculturalism has failed, and that Islam is incompatible with British culture.

Narratives espousing views that were once marginal have become increasingly accepted and sensationalism and scaremongering about Muslims in Britain is rife across mainstream media. And half a century on from Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, Douglas Murray’s, The Strange Death of Europe, offers a revived version of Powell’s ominous manifesto, to argue that in fact the situation is much worse than Powell’s foreboding message anticipated. Yet unlike Powell’s disgrace, Murray’s book won multiple awards and spent months at number one on numerous bestseller lists.

On the other side, those who value diversity can all too often become defensive, offering a celebratory view of multiculturalism which fails to acknowledge any integration issues. The reality is that multiculturalism has been an uneven success linked to wider socioeconomic inequality, leaving some areas of Britain more integrated than others.

While optimistic views are reflective of many areas of the country, our research shows they tend to be held by those who are younger or economically secure, often highly educated and middle class. They fail to resonate with those who do not see multiculturalism working for them.

Just like the toxic immigration debate, which played a big role in the vote to leave the EU, we need to join the conversation on integration and multiculturalism. Whether we like it or not, these discussions are going to happen. It is not enough to look on as voices wrongly claiming ‘multiculturalism has failed’ continue to shout loudest.

Ignoring concerns in order to champion the opposite is ineffective, and can drive further resentment. We need to challenge the idea that multiculturalism has failed, and develop messaging which can challenge people’s anxieties and perceptions of failed integration in a way that can resonate and to have meaningful impact on shifting attitudes.

3. Taking the economic link seriously

Eight years of HOPE not hate research has highlighted the link between economic insecurity and pessimistic attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism. Concerns about immigration and multiculturalism do not stand in isolation from a sense of injustice or loss in how people see their own lives, for which migrants are often blamed.

A sense of dissatisfaction with peoples’ own lives often translates into resentment of others, but attitudes are flexible and change with external conditions. Our Fear and HOPE polls have tracked growing liberalism where there is access to opportunities, and a drift towards hostility where there is declining living standards, joblessness, casualisation of labour, and cuts to public services.

Recently we developed an immigration heat map for each of our six Fear and HOPE tribes, allowing us the measure the propensity for anti-immigrant and far right views onto small geographic areas of around 500 houses. This allows us to see national trends, to understand how the environment influences attitudes and look in greater detail at the drivers of hostility.

It is perhaps no surprise that hostility is concentrated in areas where there is little opportunity, predominantly towns which have seen major decline and post-industrial areas. Conversely, the most liberal views are concentrated in cities, in middle class areas nearby universities, areas with a wealth of opportunity.

If economics continue to be a central driver of negative attitudes towards others, no amount of alternative narratives or community work to build resilience or integration initiatives will be able to counter the tensions and fears exposed in our polling unless we also take economic inequality seriously.

4. Having difficult conversations

In our increasingly polarised society, one of the major problems we face is that those most positive about immigration and multiculturalism and those most opposed have little interest in engaging with one another. And when they do, they find it almost impossible to have a constructive conversation.

Whereas once the most hostility came from those opposed to immigration, the EU referendum result has completely turned this on its head with it now being social liberals who display the greater anger towards those with opposing views.

HOPE not hate will expand our Difficult Conversations training so we can encourage and support people to talk to people with different views without dismissing, lecturing or even shouting at them. Training programmes will be devised for community, political and workplace scenarios.

If we are serious about building more cohesive communities then we need to learn to listen to people with different views, understand what they are saying even if we do not agree with them and find more constructive ways to change their minds.

5. Community training

Policies and national strategies are one thing, but what matters more is what happens at a local community level and it is here where communities really have the best chance to come together. In every community there are people working tirelessly to make things better.

From challenging injustice to putting on positive community events, these people are the real heroes of our society. Through a new initiative to be launched by HOPE not hate later in the summer, we seek to celebrate, reward and further empower these people so they can do what they do even better in the future.

We will develop local and regional training programmes to support and upskill people already doing great work in their communities. We will build national networks so they can stay in touch with each other, learn and share good practice and support each other when crises emerge.

A team of experienced HOPE not hate community organisers will offer one-to one support and on-going support for these community activists who come through our training programmes.

6. Monitoring anti-Muslim hatred

With fears and hostility towards British Muslims, and Islam in general, replacing immigration as the key driver for pessimism around integration and multiculturalism, HOPE not hate will create a new dedicated team to monitor, analyse and challenge anti-Muslim hatred.

Over the last seven years HOPE not hate has researched the self-defined ‘counter-jihad movement’, a network of far right activists who believe that Islam is a supremacist religion, Islam is incompatible with western civilisation and that immigration and multiculturalism is allowing the takeover of Europe by Islamists.

While we will continue to monitor these groups, we also recognise that anti-Muslim hatred is far more widespread and mainstream than it was and so requires a slightly different approach.

HOPE not hate researchers will analyse anti-Muslim hated, especially online, understand the trends and triggers and develop effective counter-narratives and intervention strategies.

We are all too aware that many well-meaning approaches can at best be ineffective and at worst counter-productive. Our approach will be driven by data and tested before being publicly released.

For more on our new integration project, contact [email protected]