Saturday, 5 February 2011

Big Society Multiculturalism

A BBC headline tells us that Cameron denounces state multiculturalism as a failure, following, no doubt, the recent comments that Britain has become a safe haven for terrorists.

No doubt liberals everywhere will be waving their hands around calling foul play, that will be calling for a celebration of our British, multicultural liberalism and a stop to the Conservatives’ attack on immigration. I don’t blame them, I would be one of them, IF Cameron had said that, but when you look at the content of his words rather than the attention grabbing headline that the Beeb went with then you will discover that wasn’t the focus of his statement.

In what I consider to be a questionable choice of words, the Prime Minister is in fact saying that integration of communities has failed, which in turn has not succeeded in providing,

“ … a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.”

He also says that in British society,

“We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.”

On both these points, and it pains me to say this about Cameron, I largely agree with him.

In the fear of offending or excluding our multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities, Britain has failed to define itself as a culture and a society in the past half a century or so. It is this inability of giving young people who can no longer identify with the concept of fighting for Queen and empire in the Second World War a firm national identity that has created a society of segregated, angry youths that see blowing themselves up on public transport as an option.

Reading that back that is probably one of the most right-wing things I have ever said. Let me explain.

There is evidence that those that turn to violence, whether they be BNP supporters, Islamic extremists or IRA activists rarely or never come into significant contact with their relative opposite groups. I am a believer that anger towards another community, religion or social group can always be neutralized if you get those groups to interact. They don’t need to become bezzie-mates, but if you humanise the other side the animosity can be greatly diffused.

This is where David Camerons favourite made-up cultural phenomenon, The Big Society, can come in.

Locally or nationally based independent bodies can be used to bring different communities together; not only those of different religion or colour, but of other different backgrounds like class and region. This is where things like community groups like YMCAs, Mosques, schools and even sports teams and leagues can help to build bridges.

There is one problem with this and that is the fact that these organizations need funding. Right now, the communities that can really make a difference in what the media so often call ‘Broken Britain’ are having the cash at their disposal savagely slashed.

I used to work at the Waiyin Society in Manchester that mainly work with women from the Chinese immigrant community in teaching them English, getting them qualifications and providing an area for them to socialise and ultimately helping them to integrate into British culture better. They also worked with immigrants from other backgrounds, as well as having a very active youth department which gave youths a place to hang out other than out on the street. I saw all the fantastic good that this and other organisations have the potential to do, but have also seen them have to cut back massively since the recession hit in 2008.

Cameron should be commended in having the courage to bring up a sensitive issue that has been tip-toed around for too long. He is, however, key in the destruction of the resource that would be one of the most effective ways of breaking down the social barriers and the segregation that he condemns so harshly. The Big Society is all very well and good, but it don’t come for free, not because people can’t be bothered, but because they can’t afford to.

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