The Fear and HOPE survey gives a snapshot of current attitudes in England today. It explores the level of fear, hate and hope in society. 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.
Of course attitudes and identity are fluid and multilayered. Attitudes held today may not be held tomorrow.
There are, however, many positive findings from the report.
- Young people are more positive towards immigrants and multiculturalism than older people
- Over two-thirds of people would either definitely support or consider supporting a group that campaigns against religious and racial extremism and promotes better relations between ethnic and religious groups in England
- The vast majority of people in England abhor political violence, from whatever quarter, and 60% would support a positive solution to combating extremism, such as community organising, education or using celebrities and positive role models within communities to show that people from different communities are not actually different to them.
Before we discuss the way forward, it is worth remembering one of the key findings. The two most important groups with which we need to engage to prevent an increase in right-wing extremism are:
- the Immigrant Ambivalents
- and the Cultural Integrationists.
Together, they represent over half (52%) of society, making them ‘the mainstream’. Whatever our personal views on immigration, identity and diversity, we must focus our attention on these groups and create a ‘firewall’ stopping them moving over into the Latent Hostiles ‘tribe’.
Prime Minister David Cameron seems to understand some aspects of this situation – hence his ‘muscular liberalism’ approach. The insistence on integration and opposition to state multiculturalism, whilst simultaneously speaking out against the politics of fascism and racism, speaks directly to the Cultural Integrationists group (in a way that promoting multiculturalism and the benefits of immigration simply cannot). It plays to their concerns over immigration and a changing world, as well as their belief that newcomers should accept the British way of life.
Muscular liberalism is a strategy that plays well with Cultural Integrationists but it is insufficient to deal with the other, slightly larger mainstream group – the Identity Ambivalents, whose attitudes towards immigration and identity is shaped much more by social and economic insecurity.
On the political scale the Cultural Integrationists might appear to the right of the Identity Ambivalents – being more conservative in political outlook – but it is a much firmer and less fluid group. The clear lack of Cultural Integrationists identifying with the BNP suggests that few would shift over to a far-right party.
The Identity Ambivalents, on the other hand, are far more fluid and spread across the entire political spectrum. As our report highlights, they are economically insecure, have many similarities with the Latent Hostiles and make up almost half of all people who do not identify themselves with any of the political parties. They are the true swing voters in British politics. With this group likely to come under even more stress in these difficult economic times, there is a real possibility that some could leapfrog over the Cultural Integrationists and in the process turn their fear into hate. It is for these reasons why the Identity Ambivalents have to be the focus of our work.
Preventing people in this group moving off to the Right will require increased social and economic security. With such security many will become more relaxed about immigration, and feel less acutely about identity issues. If political parties are serious about combating extremism then they will have to address these economic and social insecurities. This is particularly true for the Labour Party: this group is a significant Labour-supporting (or potentially supporting) set of voters.
There are other reasons why the Identity Ambivalents will not react as positively to muscular liberalism as the Cultural Integrationists. As stated earlier, they are more positive to immigration and multiculturalism, more opposed to aggressive right-wing extremism and look to more positive answers for reducing extremism. In almost every indicator they are more culturally and socially liberal. Without the current economic fears and pessimism it is easy to see how many in this group could shift attitudes to be closer to the Mainstream Liberals.
There are some other fundamental problems with a simplistic muscular liberalism approach. It seems half a strategy. It is a strategy of ‘stick’ without the ‘carrot’. It is about people conforming to an unspecified list of British values without looking at ways to force the two groups on the right of our identity spectrum to conform. Our survey suggests that 23% of the population are in the two identity groups that resolutely oppose immigration and a diverse society. A shocking 26% of respondents sided with English nationalist extremists in a violent confrontation but where are the calls for muscular liberalism to be applied here?
Perhaps most interestingly, our research showed that the average Muslim in Britain, along with Asians as a whole and in fact BAME, have fairly similar concerns and fears to their white counterparts. While culturally and on identity there are some differences, widely-held views about Muslims being ‘fundamentally different’ need to be challenged by politicians, the media and even the leadership of Muslim community organisations when discussing social and community cohesion.
What is required is less a policy of ‘here are our British values, you need to accept them’ – vague, simplistic and often nostalgic – but instead developing a universal set of values. At the same time we need to develop real and meaningful shared identities anchored in modern society and local communities. This is more about carrot rather than the stick.
Individuals should of course be able to lead their lives in private as they so wish but in the public sphere all citizens should be treated equally and consistently, according to generally accepted universal values. This means we should not be afraid to speak out against behaviour and actions that are clearly inconsistent with our common values.
For this to work, however, then everyone must be subjected to the same set of values – not just the Muslim community, as is all too often the case. The number of non-Muslim Britons who refuse to mix with Muslims far outnumber those Muslims who refuse to integrate into wider society.
Alongside this need for a commonly-held set of values is the need to develop shared identities. Most people have several, sometimes competing (and changing) identities, ranging from attachments to their local community, region or the country in which they live. These identities draw upon history, regionalism, culture and economic differences. Our survey highlights the multitude of factors that make up our identity but it also stresses the desire of the vast majority of people to have a strong sense of belonging.
For the Government, greater emphasis needs to be placed upon developing shared identities, local as well as national, something that goes beyond a shared set of values imposed from above. For the supporters of multiculturalism there needs to be an acceptance that most people do want to belong and share an identity, particularly around the idea of a national identity. When discussing the dismissive attitude of some towards the importance of national identity, it is worth citing a passage from Benedict Anderson’s book Imagined Communities:
“In an age when it is so common for progressive, cosmopolitan intellectuals (particularly in Europe?) to insist on the near-pathological character of nationalism, its roots in fear and hatred of the Other, and its affinities with racism, it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love, and often profoundly self-sacrificing love. The cultural products of nationalism – poetry, prose fiction, music, plastic arts – show this love very clearly in thousands of different forms and styles.”
This national identity, however, has to be real and link to the everyday experiences of ordinary people – not be linked to some golden, nostalgic past or a version of (Tony Blair government’s) ‘Cool Britannia’ which was the preserve of the rich and famous.
Developing this universal set of values is beyond the scope of Searchlight Educational Trust. But we can help develop a shared identity against a common enemy – extremism – and through this create a gap, a firewall, between the mainstream and the Far Right. And we have already achieved this, on both a local and national level, in many towns and cities up and down the land.
When faced with several recent EDL demonstrations we have sought to unite communities – white and Asian, Christian and Muslim – against extremism. We have sought to marginalise the violent extremists of the EDL, arguing that they will only bring fear and trouble to local communities. In the process we have made local people think about the community in which they want to live; and let them consider the choice of a community of fear, division and hate with one where people find a way to get along together, in peace. In Bradford and Leicester the council, police and local newspapers have all remarked about the renewed sense of ‘community’ in their respective cities following our campaigns.
People can come together in a positive and peaceful way.
A key component of universal values is consistency in applying them. We must be prepared to speak out against extremism, from whatever source it originates. We have applied this to our local campaigns and it has received a very positive response. We are being consistent in our approach; by linking seemingly-opposite extremes we are bolstering the mainstream middle. As our survey clearly shows, the vast majority of people, especially in the mainstream middle, oppose all extremism equally.
The Together Project
Searchlight Educational Trust is establishing a project to explore, understand and tackle the rise of right-wing nationalism and extremism in Britain and Western Europe.
Entitled Together, the project will endeavour to address the increasing polarisation in society, leading to political extremes and violence, then seek to counter this rising hatred through building new communities and forging shared identities.
Together will be a “Do-Tank”, not a “Think Tank”. We will use our research to influence and direct public policy, and help develop political remedies to extremism and threats to cohesion. We will also use our research to engage more effectively in the community and link it to proper local community engagement.
We will expand on elements of this research to develop a greater understanding of the threat faced, and means to deal with it. We will commission academics, journalists and writers to conduct more in-depth research and write papers and pamphlets.
We will provide assistance and training for local authorities, the police and NGOs in dealing with extremism in the community. We will promote good practice and engage with the Government on public policy issues. We will develop training tools for schools and teachers and work with faith communities to oppose extremism in a positive and collective manner.
Together will also work inside those communities most affected by fear and extremism.
We will continue to organise in the towns and cities facing EDL demonstrations and protests. We will work with councils, community organisations and faith groups to build positive cross-community opposition in a peaceful and unifying manner.
Mobilising around the slogan “A plague on both their houses” we will link the racist extremism coming from parts of the white community with the Islamist extremism of small sections of the Muslim community, and show how each breed and fuel the other.
Together can, and will, make a real difference.