Executive summary

Searchlight Educational Trust commissioned the polling organisation Populus to explore the issues of English identity, faith and race. The Fear and HOPE survey gives a snapshot of current attitudes in society today. It explores the level of fear, hate and hope. It details what pulls us apart and what brings us together. With 5,054 respondents and 91 questions it is one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys into attitude, identity and extremism in the UK to date.

On one level it is not happy reading. It concludes that there is not a progressive majority in society and it reveals that there is a deep resentment to immigration, as well as scepticism towards multiculturalism. There is a widespread fear of the ‘Other’, particularly Muslims, and there is an appetite for a new right-wing political party that has none of the fascist trappings of the British National Party or the violence of the English Defence League. With a clear correlation between economic pessimism and negative views to immigration, the situation is likely to get worse over the next few years.

Of course attitudes and identity are fluid, and multilayered. Attitudes held today may not be held tomorrow. There are also many positive findings from the report. Young people are more hopeful about the future and more open to living in an ethnically diverse society. The vast majority of people reject political violence and view white anti-Muslim extremists as bad as Muslim extremists and there is overwhelming support for a positive campaign against extremism.

The report captures society as it is now but it also points to possible remedies. This is a starting point for a new Searchlight Educational Trust project – Together.

The key findings of the Fear and HOPE report reveal:

  • A new politics of identity, culture, and nation has grown out of the politics of race and immigration, and is increasingly the opinion driver in modern British politics.
  • Six identity ‘tribes’ in modern British society. These are: Confident Multiculturalists (eight per cent of the population); Mainstream Liberals (16%); Identity Ambivalents (28%); Cultural Integrationists (24%); Latent Hostiles (10%); and Active Enmity (13%).
  • There is a clear correlation between economic pessimism and negative attitudes towards immigration. The more pessimistic people are about their own economic situation and their prospects for the future the more hostile their attitudes are to new and old immigrants.
  • There is a new middle ground of British politics that is defined by two groups of voters: Cultural Integrationists who are motived by authority and order; and Identity Ambivalents who are concerned about their economic security and social change. Together they make up 52% of the population.
  • 'Those identified as Identity Ambivalents could be pushed further towards the Right, unless mainstream political parties tackle the social and economic insecurity which dominates their attitudes. This is a challenge for the current Government – which is implementing deep spending cuts – and for the Labour Party, which is the traditional home of many of these voters. Almost half of all voters who do not identify with a party are Identity Ambivalents.
  • While more likely to consider ethnicity and religion to be important to their identity than nationality, Black and Asian minority groups share many other groups’ opinions on a range of issues, including the national and personal impact of immigration.
  • The British National Party (BNP) is in decline, entwined as it is with the old politics of race and immigration. Instead, groups such as the English Defence League (EDL), better adapted to the new politics of identity, are replacing them. However, there is a limit to the potential growth of this assertive and threatening form of nationalism.
  • There is popular support for a sanitised, non-violent and non-racist English nationalist political party. Britain has not experienced the successful far right parties that have swept across much of Western Europe. Our report shows this is not because British people are more moderate but simply because these views have not found a political articulation.

On a more positive side:

  • Political violence is strongly opposed by the vast majority of society and this is a ‘firewall’ between those concerned with immigration/multiculturalism and more open and hardline racists.
  • Over two-thirds of people view ‘English nationalist extremists’ and ‘Muslim extremists’ as bad as each other.
  • 60% of respondents thought that positive approaches – community organising, education, and using celebrities and key communal movers and shakers – were the best way to defeat extremism in communities.
  • There is a real appetite for a positive campaigning organisation that opposes political extremism through bringing communities together. Over two-thirds of the population would either ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ support such a group.

Conclusion

This report paints a disturbing picture of our attitudes towards each other and the unknown. It also graphically highlights the dangers that lie ahead if the issues highlighted in the research are not addressed. Fear and Hope throws down a challenge to the political parties to really understand what is happening in the body politic and then do something about it. Fear and Hope shakes the confidence of those who believe that all is well in Britain’s multiracial society. Fear and Hope should make all those working for a more peaceful, cohesive society think again about their strategy’s and the effectiveness of their work.

The future is unwritten and it is all to play for. The Fear and Hope survey clearly shows that the new centreground voter is receptive to messages of openness, acceptance and pluralism – but they also need social and economic reassurance. If we can understand the new politics of identity then we can win them over. If we fail to do so then we risk their fear turning to hate. That is the challenge we all face. That is why we are launching the Together campaign.

Nick Lowles
Searchlight Educational Trust