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Squeamishness about diversity and the challenge of integration risks catastrophe – Trevor Phillips

  • Ex-equalities chief calls for a ‘more muscular’ approach to managing diversity
  • Laissez-faire approach will undermine solidarity and lead to division and conflict

Britain is too complacent about its ability to manage diversity and urgently needs to adopt a ‘more muscular’ approach to integration, Trevor Phillips writes in a new Civitas publication.

The former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission warns that a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to differences in and between communities is ‘dangerously misguided’ and risks allowing the country to ‘sleepwalk to a catastrophe’.

In a new pamphlet, Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence, Phillips says that many liberals have been reluctant to accept that different sets of values and behaviours exhibited by some groups present a serious challenge to the process of integration.

‘The typical response of Britain’s political and media elite confronted with awkward facts has been evasion, because – we say – talking about these issues won’t solve the problem; instead, it will stigmatise vulnerable minority groups,’ he writes.

‘Any attempt to ask whether aspects of minority disadvantage may be self-inflicted is denounced as “blaming the victim”. Instead, we prefer to answer any difficult questions by focusing on the historic prejudices of the dominant majority. In short, it’s all about white racism.

‘This stance just won’t do any more. In fact, in today’s superdiverse society, it is dangerously misguided. Social liberals have to make a decision. Do we stand by our fundamental values at the risk of offending others; or should our desire to preserve social unity be allowed to compromise much of the social progress of the past half century?

‘In my view, squeamishness about addressing diversity and its discontents risks allowing our country to sleepwalk to a catastrophe that will set community against community, endorse sexist aggression, suppress freedom of expression, reverse hard-won civil liberties, and undermine the liberal democracy that has served this country so well for so long.

‘Worst of all it may destroy popular support for the values that have, in my opinion, characterised the greatest political advances in my lifetime: equality and solidarity.’

Phillips argues that the new era of ‘superdiversity’ – with more different groups of people arriving in Britain than ever before in the country’s history – requires a shift away from ‘organic integration’ towards a policy of ‘active integration’.

‘Superdiversity is presenting Britain with an extraordinary new challenge. We are not alone in this. But as we are seeing across the developed world, if we are to cope with societies that need new, different kinds of people to survive economically, we need to plan for the social consequences of change.

‘It is my view that the British tradition of “organic” integration no longer meets the needs of our society. To continue to pursue it will lead to division and conflict, and undermine both equality and solidarity. In place of our laissez-faire attitude to integration, I believe we need something more directive and more muscular.’

He suggests a variety of ways of achieving this, including:

– Placing a duty on institutions to promote integration and a convergance of behaviour among staff, meaning for example an end to production teams constituted according to nationality, and ensuring English is the standard working language;
– Requiring schools to demonstrate they are giving their pupils experience of the diversity of society, and bringing an end to the ‘ethnic takeover’ of state schools such as that seen in Birmingham.
– Requiring local authorities to publish annual measures of residential segregation, which might become a formal consideration in decisions about new developments;
– Sweeping away legal curbs on freedom of expression and replacing them with legislation ensuring only speech and gestures that directly encourage physical harm are restricted.

Phillips says: ‘It is time for us to abandon the old idea of organic integration. We have neither the time nor, in the modern jargon, the bandwidth, to allow a natural convergence of so many different cultures and traditions.

‘Nor, in a globalised world, with the aggressive proselytising of Islamist militancy, can we rely on the notion that every community will, with time, come to see the advantages and attractiveness of western values and ways of living.’


Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence is published by the cross-party think tank Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society on Tuesday May 10th, 2016.
The author, Trevor Phillips is a writer and television producer. He is the chair of Green Park Diversity Analytics, and the deputy chair of the board of the National Equality Standard. He was the founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. He is the president of the John Lewis Partnership Council; the chair of the Workers’ Educational Association; the vice-chair of the New York-based Center for Talent Innovation; a Fellow of the Migration Policy Institute (Washington DC) and of Imperial College London. He is the co-author (with Mike Phillips) of Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multiracial Britain.

Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence

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