The British Dream – a dangerous concoction of prejudices

This month, Chief Executive Andy Gregg reviews David Goodhart’s topical book ‘The British Dream’.

Sometimes so-called liberals can do more damage to “social cohesion” then more overtly racist commentators – their positions are less likely to be immediately identified  as contaminated with prejudice, assumption and false argument. They provide a complicit softerside to the dog-whistle politics now being employed by the Tories and UKIP.  After all, we all know where we are with those who express outright racism and xenophobia. Such views can be easily identified, critiqued and confronted. The liberal voice of  those who have aligned themselves with Blue Labour have on some occasions not been averse to expressing openly discriminatory views about recent immigrants although most of the time they dress up their prejudices in the language of “common sense” and “what everyone is already thinking”.  Such liberal commentators arguably have had more influence in poisoning the prevailing public attitude to migrants (and thence towards longer settled minority ethnic communities) then their more aggressively xenophobic rivals – even if this may not have been their intention.

David Goodhart is just such a figure. His recent book The British Dream: Successes and Failure of Post-War Immigration is a diatribe against recent levels of immigration under New Labour. In the process his argument  sometimes strays into positions (similar to those of Migration Watch and the “Blue Labourism” of Maurice Glassman) that could be seen as providing theoretical and even ideological support for the more extreme positions of UKIP and the English Defence League. If these positions were based on irrefutable evidence and clear logical argument there would be little that we on the anti-racist left could do or say about them. In actuality, his approach is riddled with dubious assumptions coupled with selective evidence. His entire argument stems from the highly questionable (but seldom effectively argued or analysed) nostrum that “more diversity leads automatically to less solidarity”. Less solidarity for Goodhart then leads inexorably towards a breakdown in trust and this then results in increasing suspicion of the welfare state and particularly of the provision of welfare benefits.

Actually there is mounting evidence that leads in quite the opposite direction as I will briefly set out later. By contrast much of the evidence that Goodhart uses is either suspect or unanalysed. Trevor Phillips on the cover blurb for the book describes Goodhart as “a European liberal who isn’t afraid of his own shadow and  a British intellectual who isn’t allergic to evidence”.  This is high praise from Trevor Phillips who has himself gone on record attacking multiculturalism and who led an Equalities Commission that perennially recoiled from showing any substantial public support to organisations campaigning on refugee, asylum and migration issues. As to the evidence Goodhart produces for his arguments, this is equivocal at best and he leaves out much key evidence that leads in a contrary direction to his core thesis. He argues that there has been far too much immigration into Britain since 1997 - and that this has damaged the prospects for integration of these migrants into British society as well as directly threatening the ties of solidarity, the “moral consensus” that he sees as vital to the maintenance of our welfare state.

The fuel  for all of Goodhart’s arguments is the unanalysed presupposition that  welfare states only work in culturally homogenous societies. This is a highly questionable assumption. It is not clear that British society has ever been “culturally homogenous”. His perception of cultural homogeneity is fundamentally a racialised one.  The fact that there may be equally large differences of nation, class and culture between Cameron’s cabinet of English public school educated millionaires and working-class white residents of inner-city estates in Newcastle, the Gorbals or the Ardoyne, is never acknowledged. Differences of class, culture, region and religion within the “white” indigenous community can be quite as substantial compared to the “differences between” black and white residents of many local neighbourhoods in the UK. Indeed it is arguable that differences of class and the growing prejudice that Owen Jones identifies against working class people as a whole are the factors that are leading inexorably to the decline in support for the welfare state. The demonization of “benefit scroungers”, often with the added racism directed towards black or minority ethnic claimants are the driving force in the public’s loss of support for the welfare state. Many of these prejudices are buttressed and supported by the Goodhart approach. In this respect then there is a characteristic irony at the heart of Goodhart’s project – issues of race, ethnicity and culture are constantly rolled out so as to avoid a real discussion of issues of power, poverty, discrimination and racism

Most of us, Goodhart asserts “prefer our own kind”. This appeal to tribalism is ironic given that the fastest growing minority ethnic group in the UK are the children of mixed heritage relationships.[1]Indeed the mixed race group is expected to become the largest such group by 2020. Britain has one of the highest rates of interracial relationships in the western world. Goodhart briefly acknowledges these developments but then reverts to his default position without making any attempts to account for this disparity.

One of the consequences of Goodhart’s kind of “muscular liberalism” (and indeed of the so-called “Blue  Labour” approach) is that the arguments it produces can frequently be seen as actively undermining the solutions that it pretends to promote. By constantly excoriating recent migration into the UK, these commentators actually stoke up the tensions that they claim to despise but which they need to point to as evidence for their arguments. This is a classic case of iatrogenesis – where the proposed cure becomes a cause of the problem. Goodhart tries an even more bizarre approach arguing not only that levels of racism are greatly exaggerated but also that “there is little evidence to suggest that if newspapers reported immigration stories in a more neutral way that opinion would be significantly more favourable”. Characteristically he fails to adduce any argument or evidence for these conclusions and even more astonishingly appears to argue that a hostile press actually helps the situation: “the tabloid press is often blamed for fanning prejudice but its bluntness may also have acted as a psychological safety valve for those who feel unrepresented by the mainly liberal political class” [2]Those groups who are the constant focus of attacks by the Daily Mail and the Daily Express are unlikely to see it this way.

There are two further allied positions that Goodhart and other Blue Labour and “liberal” commentators have developed.  The first is the notion that things have changed so much for the better in the UK that we are now living in a largely post-race and post-racism world where the old struggles for equality and against discrimination and institutional racism no longer make sense. The second is the attempt to drive a wedge between two groups of immigrants. On the one hand, the longer settled Black, Asian  and Minority Ethnic groups (many from the first period of migration – the “Windrush generation” - largely from the “New Commonwealth”  and their offspring - who settled here before the late 1990s).  On the other hand the recent and  more heterogeneous migrant arrivals including refugees, asylum seekers and EU migrants often from countries that had no history of British colonial subjection. These days, few TV commentaries on race relations are deemed complete without at least one interview with a Black or Asian British person arguing that “there are just too many immigrants”. Similar suspicions are sometimes on display at organisational levels. Whilst  there is some political synergy and unity in theory between organizations representing the two constituencies, there is still a fair degree of racism from the more established groups towards newly arrived migrants as well as misconceptions and suspicions in the other direction. Groups and coalitions organizing around race relations, race equality and “community cohesion” do not always see their responsibility to include the views or issues of newer migrants. Equally migrant and refugee organizations have sometimes been more concerned with immediate protection, arrival and family reunion issues rather than longer term settlement and race equality issues.

In fact the Government’s attempts to clamp down on “illegal” migration are likely to exacerbate tensions between Police and Immigration staff with all black and minority ethnic groups regardless of their length of settlement and integration in the UK. In a recent Independent article, Dave Garrett of Refugee Action makes this point effectively: The Home Office is responsible for community cohesion. Yet we are increasingly seeing what appears to be hostility towards non-white immigration, which will do nothing but incite racial tensions and divisions within otherwise rich and diverse communities”.[3] Doreen Lawrence in the Daily Mail has attested that recent immigration raids have clearly targeted“people of colour” and rely on “racial profiling”.[4] Goodhart has gone on record in the Evening Standard as welcoming the Government’s recent travelling billboard campaign suggesting that illegal migrants turn themselves in: “indicating to people through these billboards that the Government is not ignoring the problem will reassure many more Londoners than it scares” [5] Government attempts to get doctors and teachers to carry out immigration checks will mean that all BAME people are likely to be profiled and treated with suspicion when they attend GP surgeries, hospitals or schools. Attempts to cut legal migration by introducing a an earnings requirement of over £18,6000  for family reunion is already starting to affect the ability of many UK citizens to unite their families where one of the partners has been born abroad. This will potentially affect any British person who wishes to marry a non-EU citizen, but will target poor BAME communities in particular regardless of how long they have stayed in the UK or how well they have “integrated”. It will be vital that all organisations representing BAME populations – whether the settled groups or the more recent arrivals – start to make common cause on these issues  in the coming months and years. If we don’t hang together they will hang us separately.

Various commentators have pointed out that Goodhart’s book is riddled with inconsistencies and straw man arguments.[6] There is not space here to rehearse all of these but it is important to produce some of the countervailing evidence that questions much of Goodhart’s views and makes a positive case for migration. Goodhart frequently confuses causes with effects and makes the cardinal error of assuming that correlation is causality. He is suspicious of, and refuses to really engage with evidence that shows that migrants actually make a net contribution to the economy – they pay more in taxes and take less out in welfare and benefits. Their younger age range means they use NHS services less than average and indeed many EU migrants return to their countries for medical or dental care – despite being labelled “health tourists”.

Whilst Goodhart is keen to stress a range of other pressures migrants allegedly cause to local public services he refuses to set these against the fact that most public services would collapse tomorrow without the  input of migrants – whether at the unskilled (cleaners, porters etc.) or the skilled levels (doctors, nurses, dentists). Increasing attempts to control migration are likely to do serious damage to UK universities, not to mention the ability of the health, education and other public services to recruit sufficient skilled personnel. At the lower skilled level, large parts of the fruit picking, food processing and farming industries would become unviable and fruit and vegetables could be left to rot in the fields. Mehdi Hassan has recently conducted a useful thought-experiment asking what would happen if Britain had to do without migrants for 24 hours.[7]

Recent figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility warned that Britain needs to continue to welcome hundreds of thousands of new migrant workers every year in order to keep public finances stable over the next fifty years. “Overall migration has a positive impact on the sustainability of public finances” says the OBR. Without significant immigration the suggestion is that Britain will go bust.

A recent research survey by the University of Manchester[8]has directly challenged the Goodhart view that more diversity means less cohesion and solidarity. The University of Manchester found that in fact ethnically diverse areas are actually happier, healthier and less discriminatory. The report argues that diversity is associated with higher social cohesion and a greater tolerance of each other’s differences. This chimes with the observation that it is not areas where migrants have moved to but those they may be about to move to that tend to show most electoral and other support for extreme right wing parties. The key finding of the Manchester research was that it is deprivation not diversity which is linked with poor physical and mental health, low social cohesion and race discrimination. As Professor James Nazroo says: “so often we read in our newspapers and hear from our politicians that immigration and ethnic diversity adversely affect a neighbourhood, but careful research shows this to be wrong”[9]

The fear of migrants tends to diminish in mixed communities where there is real experience of living together with all its complications. Goodhart makes much of the option of “white flight” from these areas – however most of the evidence he puts forward is from the US and is just not applicable to the UK. 

The book contains some thinly disguised Islamophobia and the suggestion that there are such things as “good” and “bad” migrant communities. The good ones are those who have had less problems integrating[10]and who have come from more prosperous backgrounds and the “bad” ones – Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Somali are constantly mentioned in this context as “often from rural areas and with generally low levels of education and poor or non-existent English”  - they also just happen to be Muslim communities. It is interesting that Goodhart is prepared to concede to class differences within and between minority ethnic communities rather more readily then he is in the wider UK “host communities”. Because he starts his analysis with the unanalysed notion that it is diversity that is the cause of so much devastation he fails to have any analysis of the role of deprivation, poverty and social class. The effects of racism and structural discrimination are edited right out of the picture – indeed these are seen as somehow illegitimate attempts  by black and minority ethnic people to claim victimhood. A book that purports to discuss the successes and failures of post-war immigration should surely have something to say about the key concept of institutional racism and the iconic Stephen Lawrence case and the MacPherson Inquiry into it, which has dominated much of the discourse since the early 1990s. In the 340 pages of the book, Goodhart gives these key issues a couple of sentences, fails to address the arguments for a notion of institutional or structural racism and indeed completely caricatures it as “a new, more subjective definition of racism” [11]by which he presumably means that the Police are now instructed to record an incident as racist if one or more of the participants insists that it is.

Rather than conceding that racial profiling by the Police and other agents of the state is a significant problem he claims that deaths of black people in custody have fallen and “it remains a fact that young black people do commit proportionally more of certain kinds of particularly visible crime, so you would expect them to be over-represented in prison”[12]  A brief paragraph about the differential sentencing of young black men (black people are five times more likely than white people to be imprisoned in England and Wales, black and asian defendants are more likely to go to jail than white people when convicted of similar crimes, and they serve longer sentences) is followed by  the extraordinary declaration that “Clearly there is stark disproportionality here and prejudice must play a role, but there are qualifying factors ...... some groups – above all young black males – do simply commit more crime.”[13]

He concedes a short sentence about differential school exclusions in the context of a long diatribe about the nihilism of Caribbean youth. Nothing is said about differential diagnoses in cases of mental health and other clear cases of continuing structural racism.  He seems unwilling to concede that there may be issues here other than the bad behaviour of those who are discriminated against. This is a case of blaming the victim on an industrial scale.  Of course it is then coupled with the double lock argument that those who point to such discrimination are somehow “claiming victimhood” illegitimately. 

The book makes much of an extended description of life in the multicultural London Borough of Merton where he identifies a consequence of immigration on the local economy such that poor whites “are doing the worst of the lot” . This class of people for Goodhart seldom vote and have largely opted out – “many of the younger ones are Neets” etc. Actually as many commentators (including Jonathan Portes) have pointed out , this not only bears little resemblance to the reality in Merton, but in so far as it does represent anything about life in the borough it again confuses cause with effects. As Portes says: “to put it bluntly, if you’re going to be white, British and poor, all the statistical evidence suggests you’d be better off being born in Merton – or anywhere else in London, surrounded by immigrants  - than in the mostly white areas where education outcomes, in particular, are worse.” It is increasingly being suggested that one of the reasons that education in London is improving faster than other areas of the country and despite increasing poverty and deprivation is precisely because of the presence of a hyper-diverse and highly motivated cohort of students.

The even more diverse London Borough of Hackney is precisely the sort of area in which, if Goodhart is right, the high level of diversity should be causing increasing social breakdown. In fact even despite the very high levels of deprivation a 2008 MORI survey of residents showed 78% of residents saying that Hackney was a place where people from different backgrounds got on well together.The Citizenship Survey[14] back in 2008-2009 found that approximately 85% report that in their local area, people of diverse backgrounds get along well. Policy measures which are likely to have a detrimental impact on the things that go on locally are unlikely to be welcomed, even by people who think that immigration numbers should be brought down.

One of the Manchester researchers Dr  Laia Becares concluded:  “increased diversity is beneficial for all ethnic groups so we say the policy agenda should develop strategies for inclusiveness rather than marginalising minority identities, religions and cultures”  Amen to that!

Trevor Phillip’s recent characterisation of Goodhart as a liberal given some of the views on display in this new book, seems increasingly bizarre. Indeed it is worth asking whether this is the same Trevor Phillips who in 2004 said of Goodhart’s views: "Is this the wit and wisdom of Enoch Powell? Jottings from the BNP leader's weblog?... The xenophobes should come clean. Their argument is not about immigration at all. They are liberal Powellites: what really bothers them is race and culture." I think Phillips was right in 2004 and it is a measure of how far to right he has moved since then that he is now prepared to heap so much uncritical praise on Goodhart’s book in 2013.

Goodhart has gone on record recently in  praise of the mobile billboard campaign  which even Nigel Farage concedes is “nasty” and “not a British way of doing things”.[15]  Goodhart’s views lead inexorably to the conclusion that migration must be drastically cut by any means necessary. However the arguments and evidence he uses are not only highly questionable and misleading – they are actually part of the problem. Attempts by the current Government to hack back on levels of immigration are likely to be hugely damaging to the UK’s economy, as well as its social, cultural and educational life . The danger that some of these positions might be adopted by the Labour Party is a real one as the front bench seem increasingly unwilling to challenge the “common sense” view that there are too many immigrants and that they are the cause of the many problems Britain currently faces. As all the parties start their manoeuvres to the right in the face of UKIP and the coming General Election, the dangerous platitudes of those like Goodhart and Glassman are likely to form the basis of new policy directions that are bound to stoke up further economic, cultural, not to mention,  race problems for the future.

 


[1]http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/10000910

[2](p.255)

[3]http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/home-office-is-now-a-tool-for-stirring-up-racial-tension-8742783.html

[4]http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2383156/Why-focus-people-colour-Doreen-Lawrence-criticises-139-arrests-latest-illegal-immigration-crackdown.html

[5]Evening Standard 30th July 2013 “At last we are talking about, and dealing with, illegals”

[6]See for example Ian Birrell http://www.ianbirrell.com/frightened-by-foreign-bodies/, David Edgar http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/apr/03/british-dream-david-goodhart-reviewwho describes the British Dream as“just the stale suspicion of foreigners dressed up in intellectual clothing and given a slight twist to the left” Jonathan Portes describes the book as“an exercise in scapegoating” http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n12/jonathan-portes/an-exercise-in-scapegoating

[7]http://www.ukimmigrationbarristers.com/blog/what-would-happen-without-immigrants-in-the-uk-try-it-for-24-hours-and-see/

[8]http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=10141

[9]Huffington Post  24th July 2013

[10]Goodhart uses the contentious notion of “cultural protection” to justify this point. He argues that communities with too much (Pakistani, Bengali, Somali) or too little (African-Caribbean) cultural protection face problems and that it is only those with just the right amount (Indian, Jewish etc.) that are successful in integrating positively

[11]P.220 The British Dream

[12]P.99 ibid

[13]P.97 ibid  the emphasis (which I have underlined) is the author’s

[14]http://www.natcen.ac.uk/study/citizenship-survey-

[15]“At last we are talking about, and dealing with illegals” Evening Standard 30th July 2013 http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/david-goodhart-at-last-we-are-talking-about-and-dealing-with-illegals-8738189.html