Foreword: A report for its time

At certain moments a specific publication can turn the page on what went before. Occasionally – by the way it contests comfortable assumptions – a specific pamphlet can challenge, and indeed subsequently alter, how we view society. A piece of research can sometimes shine a light on cultural shifts as they occur; providing us with an empirical, real time focus on the country we inhabit. When this happens it demands a political response.

The research in this Fear and Hope document is, I believe, one such publication. Arguably it amounts to the most systematic study of contemporary attitudes to race, identity, nationhood and extremism available in England. It certainly is in depth, including a total of 91 questions covering 5054 discreet interviews systematically spread across the length and breadth of England.

The central findings contained in this publication should ricochet through the body politics. Arguably it identifies a ‘new politics’ built around belonging and loss; of identity, culture and nationhood which transcends both an older class politics and even more recent debates around demographics and immigration.

The research suggests that economic change and material insecurity have altered, fundamentally, orthodox political assumptions as to what constitutes the centre ground, or ‘middle England’. The two most significant ‘tribes’ identified within – the ‘cultural integrationists’ demanding strength and authority, and the ‘identity ambivalents’ demanding economic security and social change – profoundly challenge much orthodox liberal economic and social thinking within both the Government coalition and Labour opposition.

HOPE not hate campainging in Barking and Dagenham

The real floating voters, primarily ‘identity ambivalents’ – appear to be on a journey away from all major parties. This poses the very real threat of a new potent political constituency built around an assertive English nationalism. This is not the politics of the BNP, but of a reframed English identity politics that includes various ethnic groupings. Moreover, lazy arguments of English island ‘exceptionalism’ and moderation are questioned. Put simply, unless political parties step up and provide a new language of material wellbeing; of identity and belonging then these political forces might refract into more malign forms. As such, the political class has been warned.

Conversely, there is hope and not just despair.  Violence is strongly opposed; community organising received positively. Politics remains local; extremism can be defeated. Talk of ‘values’ and ‘engagement’ must be real; anchored in the everyday, a politics that is parochial. In Bradford and Leicester this is exactly what Searchlight and Hope Not Hate have been developing in early skirmishes with the EDL. I have experienced at first hand their work in uniting communities against extremism in my own patch in Barking and Dagenham.

Jon Cruddas

Political parties and politicians are too quick to go negative; play to people’s concerns and prejudices. Searchlight, on the other hand, play on positivity and hope. Their positive message unites people against fear and hate and in the process make people feel better about themselves. Over 1,500 people were involved in their campaign in my area; over 150,000 are signed up nationally. Sometimes we, as politicians, need to be humble enough to learn from others.

Finally, the core message of hope contained within is that people share a common sentiment, a search for a common life even –  built on a desire for belonging and security, which does indeed create possibilities for an optimistic ‘new politics’ but only if the mainstream political parties step up. The jury is out. This is a profoundly important text.

Jon Cruddas MP
Dagenham and Rainham