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British Values? Populism And Cultural Superiority?

19/12/2016 12:55 GMT | Updated 19/12/2016 12:55 GMT
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Despite UKIP falling away in popularity and recent polls showing that more people are regretting supporting Brexit, the Labour Party seems intent in chasing a vote that is rapidly disappearing. Andy Burnham has performed a spectacular U-turn on his previously stated opinions on immigration, saying last week in the commons that immigrants were responsible for rising crime (they aren't) and now that 'valid concerns should be addressed' and migration should be limited. Yvette Cooper says that free movement should be stopped. Len McCluskey said as a part of his re-election campaign that wage suppression caused by immigration (it isn't) should be addressed, and insisted that immigrants coming here to work should only be allowed to do so on the basis of what is essentially a closed shop.

It isn't inherently racist of course to talk about immigration or about people's concerns, but to campaign for their votes on this basis without presenting them with the actual facts of the matter is exploitative. You can only have true democracy with an informed electorate, and if you are simply going to pander to their beliefs rather than giving them the information they need, then what you have is not the forum but the mob, and what you are displaying is contempt for the electorate and the democratic process.

Politics without ideology is another way of defining populism. Rather than winning the electorate over to your position through reasoned, supported argument, you immediately react to their prejudice and the popular opinion becomes policy.

In the case of immigration, not only does this approach give validity to people's xenophobia and racism - as we have seen with the Brexit campaign and the wave of racist violence that came in its wake - it also ultimately damages those people who have been exploited in this way. In Brexit, the very people that carried the vote will be the first to suffer from increasing prices, loss of jobs, the destruction of the welfare state, NHS and social care. Similarly, with controls on immigration, the net contribution that migrant workers and their families bring to our communities and the economy will be lost. In an aging population, there will not be enough people of a working age to fund pensions and social care, let alone service a spiraling national debt.

Whilst it isn't racist to discuss immigration, some of the views regularly expressed in such 'debates' could be based in a form of post-colonialism. This stems from the premise - of course people will want to come Here, as our country/society/culture is superior to theirs. This can also be seen in the wish to emphasise 'Britishness' and insist that immigrants swear fealty to a set of values that has never been defined, to a national identity that does not actually exist. The colonizer now seeks to fortify and defend his culture against the possible dilution or change that immigrants might bring. Just as bad as the self-imposed ghettoization of minority communities, now any effort to contribute in a multi-cultural society is conditional on loyalty to an identity construct that most native British people would not recognize - or would actually reject.

The myth of 'mass migration' is based in these beliefs. The simple fact is that the UK is not subject to mass migration of any kind - most migrants and refugees are not coming here. The number of migrants per head of population puts the UK somewhere around 40th in the world ranking. Despite one of the strictest and most expensive points-based visa systems in the world, 60% of immigrants still come from outside the EU. This is a part of our true post-imperial legacy, as the majority of these people are from commonwealth countries, joining well-established communities and family in the UK. Yet this mass migration myth was directly exploited by the Brexit campaign and never debunked effectively by the Remainers.

Sajid David's call for an oath of fealty to 'British Values' is just such a reaction and it should be treated with the contempt that it deserves. His intervention comes after the Casey Review into Opportunity and Integration, which not only calls for such an oath for holders of public office, but also for all immigrants.

Casey's report is immediately critically flawed as it starts from this same premise of cultural superiority and never acknowledges or attempts to address its inherent cultural bias. It talks about integration but is divisive in its language and recommendations. It assumes that all the travel towards integration has to come from one direction. It puts the blame for low social cohesion and employment rates on the minority communities, without acknowledging for an instant the reality of racism and prejudice in the workplace. It again emphasizes the teaching of British values and history without irony - as if the children of Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants won't know all about British imperialism and what it did to their families in the past. What the Casey report is really about is moving from multiculturalism to acculturation and assimilation. Without even feeling the need to state it, the underlying premise is that British culture and values are self-evidently and inherently superior. Nothing is to be learned or gained from other cultures. It mentions the one school where the pupils thought that most of the country was Asian, based on the population of the school and their community - one of the snippets that was exploited by the right-wing press - whilst the government pushes selection in academies and bolsters faith schools.

Another typical flaw is the way that it regards the communities it labels as homogenous - so there is a 'Muslim community', a 'Bangladeshi community', a 'Pakistani community' - when Islam is a collection of different faiths and cultures, when the Bangladeshi community in one city could have completely different cultural values and even language to that in a neighbouring city.

In defining the problem of integration and the isolation of minority communities, it fails completely to recognize the problems that individuals face on a daily basis in the obstacles deliberately placed in their way by the dominant culture. It does not recognize or admit culpability of the government in devastating the English as a Second Language (ESL) programmes that were until recently all over the country offering free access and a way in for minority groups, women in particular. It does not mention the awful effect that the divisive and prejudicial Prevent programme is having on schoolchildren and students, where even children at nursery have been referred for special intervention.

So what British values is the Labour Party now supporting in its move to take the place soon to be vacated by UKIP? What British values would Dame Casey and Sajid Javid make us swear allegiance to? The exploitation of xenophobia and prejudice in order to garner votes? That lack of social cohesion is not the fault of government policy or lack of funding for ESL and community programmes, but the fault of those very minorities as they simply aren't 'British enough' - so they need to swear an oath and be 're-educated'?