May 9, 2013 § 3 Comments
A week on from the local elections, and there seems to be no end to the debate about UKIP’s success. Explanations fall into two broad categories. Some insist that UKIP garnered merely a temporary midterm protest vote. Others see Nigel Farage’s outfit as a lasting threat to which the main parties must respond by adopting more hardline policies, especially on Europe, immigration and welfare.
Both views are right. And both are wrong. UKIP does draw the protest vote. But the very character of the protest vote is changing.
The traditional party of protest in Britain was, of course, the Liberal Democrats (or the Liberals as they were before they got hitched to the SDP). Once a party of government, the failure of the Liberals to win power for most of the twentieth century made it an ideal vehicle for the protest vote – a safe, mainstream party to which to turn at relatively irrelevant elections as a means of temporarily expressing dissatisfaction with one of the main parties before returning to the fold; a way sending a message but not of upsetting the system.
Once the Liberal Democrats became part of the Coalition government after the 2010 election, they could no longer play this role. But something more fundamental has also changed. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 6, 2013 § 1 Comment
David Goodhart, in his response to my review of his book The British Dream, raised three major issues. First, he suggested, mass immigration undermines stability and continuity. Second, he claimed that I ignored the fact that immigrants come not as individuals but as members of communities and cultures. And third, he challenged me to set out my concept of integration. I dealt with the question of stability and change in a pervious post. I will write about the meaning of integration in a future post. Here, I want to take up the question of community and culture.
In defending mass immigration, Goodhart suggested, I am forced ‘to adopt a sort of methodological individualism’, to imagine that ‘there are only individuals, floating free of culture, tradition, language, ways of life, who can just slot into modern Britain without changing anything’. This, he added, ‘is the left’s equivalent of “there is no such thing as society”’.
I have, in fact, long been critical of liberal views of individualism. I have many times made the point that humans are not individuals who become social but social beings whose individuality emerges through the bonds they create with each other. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 26, 2013 § 8 Comments
On Saturday I reviewed David Goodhart’s book The British Dream which explores, in the words of its subtitle, the ‘successes and failures of post-war immigration’. Goodhart, I suggested, ‘touches on some of the critical issues that we face today’. But ‘his insistence on seeing contemporary problems primarily through the lens of immigration only obscures those issues and makes it more difficult to formulate adequate responses’.
Goodhart responded to that review, suggesting that my attempt to marry a critique of multiculturalism to a defence of mass immigration was ‘plain eccentric’. There were three key points to his argument. First, he suggested, ‘decent societies with high levels of trust between citizens require a degree of stability and continuity’. Too much immigration undermines such stability and continuity. Hence ‘the government’s goal of net immigration of “tens of thousands”’ was ‘a necessary but not sufficient part of an integration strategy’. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 22, 2013 § 9 Comments
On Saturday I posted my review of David Goodhart’s book The British Dream. Here is Goodhart’s response to that review. My thanks to David for a generous reply. I will post something later this week in response to the main challenge he raises about immigration, multiculturalism and integration, and about whether I adopt the left version of ‘there is no such thing as society’. I have also added a comment to this post which deals with some of the other issues he raises. I hope this turns into a fruitful discussion.
I have learnt a lot from Kenan over the years, especially about the failings of a certain strain of multiculturalism. And I cannot complain about much of his recent review of my book The British Dream. But I still think his own position of being in favour of as much immigration as possible – presumably on global justice grounds – while opposing ‘putting people into boxes’ multiculturalism, is plain eccentric.
To imagine how this might work Kenan has to ignore the economics of large scale immigration which even the mainly pro-mass immigration economists regard as negative for people at the bottom end of the labour market. He also has to adopt a sort of methodological individualism – there are only individuals, floating free of culture, tradition, language, ways of life, who can just slot into modern Britain without changing anything. This is the left’s equivalent of ’there is no such thing as society’. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 20, 2013 § 7 Comments
In 2004, David Goodhart wrote an essay called ‘Too Diverse?’ in Prospect magazine, of which he was then editor. Liberals, he suggested, had to face up to a ‘progressive dilemma’. Too much immigration undermined social solidarity, particularly in a welfare state. We had to choose between the two. The essay caused considerable controversy, but became a key point of reference for many communitarian thinkers, both Labour and Conservative.
Goodhart, now director of the centre-left think tank Demos, has developed that essay into a book. At the heart of The British Dream are three key themes: first, the chasm between the elite and the public on the issue of immigration; second, the corrosive effect of immigration on community solidarity and traditional identities; and third, the problems caused by what Goodhart calls ‘laissez faire multiculturalism’. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 14, 2013 § 6 Comments
So, those who despise Margaret Thatcher for her vindictiveness and spitefulness want to celebrate her death by propelling into the charts a song about the death of a witch. Those who laud Thatcher for her supposed love of freedom want to ban that song. And the BBC settles on a cackhanded ‘compromise’ by censorsing the song while pretending it is doing no such thing. Nothing, perhaps, could better express the inanity of contemporary politics than the crass, puerile controversy around Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead. Once, protest songs provided the soundtrack to political struggle. Now political struggle is reduced to getting old songs into the charts.
But what of the actual protest songs of the Thatcher years? These were the years of mass unemployment and inner city riots, of the miner’s strike and the hunger strikes, of the poll tax protests and the Falklands War. Yet, even in the 80s anti-Thatcher protests were all too often overwhelmed by personal loathing and descended into little more than an outpouring of vindictive venom. And so did the protest songs – from Morrissey’s Margaret on the Guillotine (And people like you/ Make me feel so old inside/ Please die) to Elvis Costello’s Tramping Down the Dirt (I’d like to live/ Long enough to savour/ That’s when they finally put you in the ground/ I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down). I have excluded from my list all these personal hate pieces (though I was tempted to include Elvis). I have also left out all the protest songs that don’t relate directly to the policies and events and experiences of the Thatcher years. So, for instance, I have included the Gang of Four’s Ether (which is about the H-Blocks) but not their far superior classic tracks such as Damaged Goods, Anthrax and Natural’s Not in It. (It is worth remembering also, in the context of musical censorship, that the band was thrown off Top of the Pops after it refused to change the lyrics of its first hit single, At Home He’s a Tourist. The BBC objected to the line ‘And the rubbers you hide in your top left pocket’, finding it highly offensive, and demanding that ‘rubbers’ be changed to ‘rubbish’. The band refused) « Read the rest of this entry »
April 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
I am away for a week, so I thought I would unearth some more old material from the vaults, this time debates in which I have been involved. This first is an exchange of letters with the human rights activist Tanuka Loha, currently the Human Right to Housing Program Director at America’s National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, on questions of race, identity and political representation. It is a debate that touches on many of the themes in the contemporary discussion of multiculturalism, as well as obliquely addressing some of the issues raised in the current debate about immigration. It was first published in Catalyst magazine in November-December 2006.
Liberation movements throughout the world have long argued that without the meaningful participation of those who are facing systematic discrimination, society cannot become more equal. Whether we look at suffrage movements or anti-colonial struggles, the right to have one’s own voice, and that of one’s community, heard and represented is an emotive and complex issue but also a necessary precursor to the eradication of inequality. « Read the rest of this entry »