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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Is this man the left's Enoch Powell?
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Racist? Me?
Not at all says, David Goodhart. But he insists it's about time liberals got their act together over immigration.

If old trainers and corduroy is anything to go by, David Goodhart doesn't look like the most dangerous man on the British left. But there are plenty of people who think he is.

In the February edition of his liberal political magazine, Prospect, David Goodhart argued the British left must get to grip with immigration - or diversity as he described it - and found himself promptly denounced by his own club.

The thrust of his 6,000 word essay is this: The most important totem for the left is the comprehensive welfare state that provides everything from benefits to free education.

The implication of ideas from people like [my critics] is that you can't be anti-racist and have reservations about immigration - that's absurd and stuck in the 1960s."
David Goodhart
But if society is increasingly "diverse", then support for the idea that we gain by pooling something for others to share starts to collapse.

Why? Because people are less willing to share with strangers as they do not believe they have the same values as themselves.

What Goodhart didn't reckon on was the Guardian republishing the entire essay in full - and sparking an enormous row.

Chief among the accusers was Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

He said "nice people do racism too" and described Goodhart and his supporters as "liberal Powellites".

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who has spent years bashing the government on immigration issues from the pages of the Independent, said Goodhart didn't know what he was talking about - and that not one non-white Briton supported his thesis.

Academics, ministers and members of the public all queued up to criticise David Goodhart - and still do. It makes him angry, he says, because he is not a racist.

'Irrational outbursts'

"Immigration is an area where you can say entirely common-sensical things and be met with irrational, paranoid outbursts from otherwise sensible people," he says now.

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips: "Nice people do racism too"
"If anything, white people should have taken it personally because I was raising questions about their willingness to share once diversity reaches a certain level."

Goodhart argues that the left faces a "progressive dilemma" of supporting diversity while ignoring the "self-evident truth" that it thins the bonds of society.

"Most people who are affluent choose to become more separate and that can be a good thing.

"But then it makes people feel less likely to accept mutual obligations [towards others in society they don't know].

"To say there is a tension between society becoming more different and a society continuing to share, does not strike me as controversial."

Critics say this is a smokescreen for a nostalgia which feels hostile to anything that isn't Anglo Saxon in nature. In other words, white British don't complain about Americans, Aussies or Kiwis arriving by the planeload - but do if the arrivals are Asian Muslims.

Furthermore, Professor Sir Bernard Crick, home secretary David Blunkett's adviser on citizenship, suggested Goodhart's thesis completely forgot about the diverse identities within the British Isles prior to mass immigration.

But Goodhart says signs of break points are all around us because of how poorly governments have managed immigration and change.

"Communities require continuity, we need strong bonds of affinity that go beyond the family, into the community and then to the nation.

"It's a sense of knowing that people are like us, that they are playing by the same rules, what's good and what's bad, the place of religion in society and so on."

So what does that mean in practical terms? Is it objectionable for a mosque to seek permission for a Friday call to prayer?

Goodhart ducks the issue. The real question to ask, he says, is what is being done to reassure people about the future.

Multiculturalism dead?

Which is where Trevor Phillips comes in again. The CRE chief recently declared we should dump "multiculturalism" in favour of instilling "Britishness" in all our people.

David Blunkett
If people believe borders are not under control, they close themselves off - and that's why you get things like white fright
David Goodhart
Does David Goodhart think the M-word debate started by Trevor Phillips a belated nod towards the Prospect essay?

"He is politically realistic and usually very sensible. He has never gone for the wider multiculturalism debate before. But by doing so he brings some rigour into the debate. Multiculturalism has come to be an anti-integrationalist ethic."

And the left should also praise David Blunkett, he adds.

"When David Blunkett first mentioned the business about speaking English at home, there was such an outcry. Anyone like him was seen as some kind of authoritarian nationalist. But it's only since David Blunkett we have seen an end to the laissez faire approach.

"If it's too late [to win the argument] it's not David Blunkett's fault. There's been decades of change and no one has said anything.

"If you can show that you control your borders, you control who becomes 'us'. "And if people know this, they will be generous. If people believe borders are not under control, they close themselves off - and that's why you get things like white fright."

"We have to force down some of the prejudices of people and the media - but we have to also force down the prejudices of some liberals."

"The implication of ideas from people like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is that you can't be anti-racist and have reservations about immigration. That's absurd and stuck in the 1960s."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

It is good to discuss issues of immigration and the multicultural fabric of British society. However, as an immigrant or a non-Anglo Saxon in Britain you can't help feeling very unwelcomed here. First there is the BNP/Le Pen alliance, then the Sun/Daily Express/Mail alliance, the general vilification of immigration in the guise of asylum seekers and the government latch to traditional right wing ideas on immigration. I can assure you it feels very uncomfortable.
TK, Edinburgh

The whole point of Community means learning to enjoy living with people who are different, not trying to stick with people who you think are the same.
David, U.K.

Why does everyone assume you have to be white to be a racist? I come from Luton where the history of racial tension is mostly between Afro-Caribbeans and Asians. Trevor Philips is right - nice people can be racists, as can Black people, Asians, Irish, in fact anyone. It's about time that was recognised as fact.
Rob, UK

A lot of people who are concerned about immigration are branded as 'Racists', when this would only be fair if they objected to a particular ethnic grouping. All nations have been subject to significant flows of immigrants at some point in their history, and we need to think of the world population as something which flows rather than remains in one place all the time. Cultural diversity is a positive thing, but we must avoid situations where particular groups become too insular and show few signs of trying to adjust their way of life to the same extent that communities receiving them are expected to adjust theirs.
Jamie, UK

If a nation does not have some sense of 'them and us', how can it even begin to be a body politic? And if the definition of 'us' is endlessly elastic, how can it be meaningful? What Goodhart has said is sensible, self-evidently true and brave. To oppose it as 'racist' is knee-jerk stupidity.
Andrew Sim, UK

I firmly believe that those seeking asylum from persecution should be welcomed to our shores with open arms, minds and hearts. However, the government has no control over who gets into this country. When the press is constantly bombarding us with tales of 'illegal immigrants', 'bogus asylumn seekers', 'soft touch Britain', 'economic migrants' etc it is no wonder that people become concerned about who 'these people' are. That isn't racism, that's a genuine and justifiable fear about people's motives. If the immigration situation was under control, and if the public trust in the system could be regained, then people would feel safer in the knowledge that those being allowed entry to Britain are here for genuine reasons and are not here to attack our way of life but to become a vital and helthy part of it. Shame on those who try to beat down this kind of discussion by crying 'racist'.
Mark, UK

My politics are firmly Leftist. However, I agree wholeheartedly with Goodheart. Many of my friends are teachers who complain that - against the background of constrictive carriculum requirements - they are barely able to teach a class anything at all given the time spent compensating for simple language differences. I believe we lefties need to accept that you do not create a tolerant multicultural society by simply throwing people together. We must have the infrastructure and support in our schools and social services first. Ever increasing social division will only make it harder to acheive quorum on this in the future. We must listen to facts as well as our hearts, and the government must be honest and provide proper information so that the UK populace can make reasoned choices, rather than fear-driven knee-jerk reactions based on half-truths.
Frazer Payne, UK

As usual, a vocal minority (given the air time they recived, this might come as a surprise) uses "racism" as a stick to beat down all views in opposition to their "liberal" ones on migration. I also dislike the insidious reference that "nice people do racism" - because the target is a left-wing liberal. Normally that's reserved for all those right-learning "nazis". The real problem here is that anyone opposing these "liberals" seems to have to spend a lot of time defending their characters against various slurs, rather than everyone debating the real issue. Unfortunately, it seems that freedom of speech and expression should only apply if these "liberals" agree with it.

My problem with Goodhart's thesis (which I have read in full) is that he seems concerned only with Afro-Caribbean and Asian immigration - equally culturaly diverse, but white, immigrants from Australasia, South Africa, North America and Europe do not trouble him. He seems to assume that there is cultural discord only when the immigrants are not white. He also appears to assume cultural homogeneity among the UK's black and Asian communities, yet these communities contain perhaps even greater diversity than the white population. I don't think Goodhart is a racist, I just don't think he has any idea what he is talking about.
Justin, London, UK

British people, like anyone, should be entitled to think about and talk about how they want their country to be, but it's probably the only area in British public life where self-censorship reigns. Small wonder when the knee-jerk reaction to anyone making any supposedly controversial point is to call the speaker names. Perhaps if as a nation we were more assertive about this issue, we wouldn't find ourselves so often being alternately passive and aggressive.
Jessica, UK

Goodhart worries that increasing immigration will make people less willing to contribute to things like social welfare. What kind of society are we preserving, though, if we limit immigration in order to preserve sufficient social support for a bunch of inbred racists?

As a proud lefty I think that Goodhart should be treated like a Europhile within the Tory party and be mocked and given no credence whatsoever, let alone the ear of ministers. Once again we ignore the fact that we gained our current wealth and status as a nation through slavery and imperialism. Now it's payback time and we're acting like petulant children. Yes there are issues surrounding service provision but those could be solved by less hysteria, more reasoning, better information from government - which does nothing to dispel the media hoo-har.
Paul, UK

I am so glad to see a broadening of the debate on immigration, multiculturalism and the protection of ethnic identities. Unfortunately many politicians have been silenced by their leaders and have been forced out. That a man of the left has been able to untangle the political from the reality of the situation is to be acclaimed. Let's now turn the spotlight where it belongs on the "thugs" who assault others instead of engaging in non-violent yet passionate debate.
Ian Gorman, US ex-pat

I have watched numerous programs showing middle class people moving to other parts of the world in search of new opportunities and a better quality of life. When the developing world attempts the same thing they are told that they are not wanted. If a person can work and provide a service to this nation surely they should be allowed. If at first they need help then it should be given as the long-term result would mean that the nation benefits from the services and strengths that these people have to offer.
Jitesh, UK

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Debate call on 'multicultural' UK
05 Apr 04  |  Politics

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