From Institutional Racism to Community Cohesion: the Changing Nature of Racial Discourse in Britain

by Andrew Pilkington
University of Northampton

Sociological Research Online 13(3)6

Received: 27 Feb 2008     Accepted: 23 Apr 2008    Published: 31 May 2008


It is imperative that an appropriate balance is reached between three key principles: equality, diversity and social cohesion. In many countries across the world, however, there is a discernible move away from a concern for equality and diversity as the problem of order looms larger. I shall focus here on Britain in presenting my central thesis that there is a very real danger that a new nationalist discourse centred on community cohesion and integration is trouncing any duties on us to promote racial equality and respect cultural diversity. The paper comprises three sections. I shall firstly identify a radical hour when there was for the first time official recognition that institutional racism existed in British society and some urgency that this needed to be combated. I shall secondly highlight the fragility of such progressiveness and identify threats from the changing nature of racial discourse since 2001. Here, I shall highlight in particular how the prominence given to institutional racism, with the publication of the Macpherson report, was remarkably short lived and how multiculturalism has come under increasing attack, not least because of its purported threat to social cohesion. I shall finally offer some tentative proposals for a more positive way forward.

Keywords: Britishness; Community Cohesion; Equality; Ethnicity; Integration; Institutional Racism; Multiculturalism; Race

New Labour and the Radical Hour

1.1 The advent of a New Labour government in 1997 signalled a renewed concern with egalitarianism and for a short period promised to inaugurate a new era whereby Britain confronted racism and exhibited a readiness to be accommodating to the concerns of minority ethnic communities. The promotion of equality generally was again a central concern in policy formulation and, with the publication of the Macpherson report in 1999, race equality itself became fore-grounded. The report that Sir William Macpherson chaired constituted the culmination of the official inquiry into the police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, by five white youths. Although the primary focus of the inquiry was on the police, the report suggested that all major organisations in British society are characterised by institutional racism. This was a remarkable admission since 'for 30 years British officialdom had consistently denied that it had any meaning when applied to Britain' (Parekh, 2000). What made the admission even more remarkable was that the concept had originally been coined by Stokely Carmichael (Carmichael & Hamilton, 1967), an American Black Power activist, and had been embraced subsequently in Britain by a radical organisation, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). It is no wonder that Jenny Bourne from the IRR saw the state's championing of this concept and its acceptance by key institutions of its applicability to them as 'a major benchmark in race relations' (Bourne, 2001).

1.2 For Macpherson, the concept of institutional racism does not imply that the policies of organisations are racist. The term is instead defined as 'the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes, and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people' (Macpherson, 1999). The Macpherson report, and its charge that major organisations were infused by institutional racism, was widely accepted in 1999. Both the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, expressed fulsome support for the inquiry's findings, and 'the vast majority of press coverage was favourable' (Gillborn, 2008). The most significant outcome was the fillip given to the existing race relations legislation, notably the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

1.3 Under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act for the first time, a general statutory duty was placed on all public authorities, and specific duties on some authorities, not only to prevent racial discrimination (including indirect discrimination) but also to promote racial equality. To help public authorities meet their duty and ensure that it is fulfilled, the Act gave the Commission for Racial Equality the power not only to issue statutory codes of practice but also to conduct audits. By enjoining public bodies in this way to develop plans which promote racial equality, the Act adopted a somewhat different approach to that embodied in previous race relations legislation: public authorities were now being required to take a pro-active stance to racial equality and thus take the lead in promoting equal opportunities. While we should not forget that the thrust of immigration policy continued to be restrictive, being presaged on assumptions that 'racialised' immigrants and asylum seekers constituted a threat, there is no doubt that official recognition that institutional racism existed in Britain and needed to be combated was a radical development. All of this, however, now seems a distant memory. Such progressiveness was short-lived and signs of a retreat soon appeared.

Radicalism under Fire: The Media Reaction to the Parekh Report

2.1 The first inklings of the threat manifested themselves in the media hysteria in reaction to the Parekh report, a major report of an independent Commission on the future of multi-ethnic Britain chaired by Lord Parekh. Let us briefly look at the headlines on three successive days, the day before the launch, the day of the launch to which Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, was invited and the day after the launch.

2.2 Here is the media response on the day before the launch: the Daily Telegraph led the way with its main story on the front page headlined, 'Straw wants to rewrite our history', with the subheading '"British" is a racist word, says report'. This was accompanied by a scathing critique of the report in its editorial, headed, 'The British race' and an equally damning commentary entitled 'Thinkers who want to consign our island story to history'. Other newspapers took their cue from the Daily Telegraph, with both the Daily Mail and The Sun changing their later editions on October 10th to reproduce the same line. The Daily Mail headlined its story 'British is racist, says peer trying to rewrite our history', while The Sun under the heading, '"British" is race slur' , carried a story which began: 'The word "British" is RACIST, according to a new report that has been welcomed by the government. And it says British history should be rewritten because it takes no account of ethnic minorities'. Later that day, the Evening Standard, published in London, reiterated the same message under the headline, 'The word "British" is racist – report'.

2.3 The following day, when the report itself was launched, coverage became more extensive but the overriding emphasis had been set the day before. The Daily Mail included an essay entitled, 'In praise of being British' and an equally damning editorial headed, 'What an insult to history and our intelligence'. The Daily Telegraph followed up its earlier condemnation of the report with an essay entitled, 'They met at Runnymede – to boss us all around'. Other newspapers latched on to a new story but generally followed the way that the Daily Telegraph had initially defined the story. The Times headlined its story: 'Drop the word "British" says race trust', while both The Guardian and the Daily Mirror took a similar line with their respective headlines, 'British tag is "coded racism"' and 'British is just another word for prejudice'. It is true that articles appeared that day, especially in The Guardian and The Independent, which were more sympathetic to the report, but the overriding impression given by the headlines in the press was extremely negative.

2.4 On October 11, the report was officially launched, with the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, welcoming the overall thrust of the report, including the need for Britishness to 'become an inclusive plural' identity (Straw, 2000), while at the same time distancing himself from the tendency (in his view) for people on the left not to be proud of being English and/or British. The coverage the following day ignored the Home Secretary's welcome for the report and concentrated instead on his defence of Britishness. The Daily Telegraph again set the tone, 'Straw beats a very British retreat over race report' and reiterated its message in another editorial, 'Don't diss Britannia'. Other newspapers tended to take the same line. The Times was particularly scathing of the report supplementing its lead story headlined, '"Proud to be British" Straw raps race report' with two essays headed respectively, 'Whatever being British stands for, it will not be imposed by a bureaucratic, quasi-State commission' and 'Who do these worthy idiots think they are?' and an editorial with the heading, 'Nation and Race: a report that will be shelved, a debate that will not'. Headlines in The Guardian, The Independent andThe Financial Times adopted the same overall framework in their lead stories, 'Be proud to be British, Straw tells left'; 'Straw launches scathing attack on "unpatriotic" left'; and 'Britishness defended after race report'. And the same was true of the tabloids, with the Daily Express announcing in its headline, 'Race report angers "proud Briton" Straw' and the Daily Mirror 'Straw backs Britain', while the Daily Mail took the same tack, albeit without the sympathy evident to Labour of the other two papers, 'Labour in retreat on race'. Other tabloids put things more graphically, with the Daily Star announcing 'This stuff gets on my Brits' and The Sun stating 'The Sun hits back at fools who say the word "British" is racist'. There were some more considered articles on the day of publication, including editorials in the The Independent and Daily Express and essays in The Guardian and Evening Standard. The bulk of media coverage, however, tended to drown out such voices so that the overwhelming message across the media tended to present the report in a highly negative way.

2.5 After October 12, the report received increasingly less explicit coverage in the daily newspapers. The advent of the Sunday papers temporarily gave it new life but, needless to say, the existing framework tended to be reproduced. The tabloids included essays which made their vehement opposition to the report very clear. The News of the World: 'It's stupid to brand True Brits as racist'; The People: 'Tough on pot but so weak on pottiness'; The Mail on Sunday: 'These race "warriors" simply stir up hatred'. Although the odd article appeared, for example in the Observer, sympathetic to the report, the overriding message in the broadsheets was just as critical as that in the tabloids. The Sunday Times: 'They are doing their level best to destroy Britain's identity' and the Sunday Telegraph: 'We know in our hearts what Britain means'. Thereafter, the report was no longer news and the story ran out of steam. And as time has passed, the report has been forgotten and within a few months had become history.

2.6 The report clearly touched a nerve. The hostile media coverage indicated the existence of considerable anger towards the idea that Britain needed to change in fundamental ways. The selective attention paid to national identity and the need to rethink the national story arguably points to anxiety over who we are in a postcolonial world (and it should be noted devolved/European world). Who are we, Brits any longer? Who are we in a world where we seem threatened from below by migrants from other countries that we used to rule and from above by our membership of an organisation dominated by countries who have been our traditional enemies. And who are we when the UK seems to be fragmenting with the restoration of national assembles and parliaments? The hysteria manifest in the media reaction signals the depth of the anxiety. In some respects the report also served as 'a proxy target' for the resentment felt towards the earlier Macpherson report, which had pictured the police and other organisations as characterised by institutional racism. It had been difficult to voice such resentment because the latter 'was accepted by the government and [was] associated with the senseless murder of a promising young man' (Parekh, 2001). The Parekh report, which shared many of the same assumptions as the Macpherson report, thus constituted a convenient target for the articulation of strongly felt grievances.

2.7 If the media reaction in 2000 signalled the first signs of a backlash, subsequent events from 2001 onwards have signalled the emergence of a new discourse and the marginalisation of earlier concerns with racial equality and ethnic diversity.

The Northern Riots and the Demise of 'Institutional Racism'

3.1 Britain witnessed a new outbreak of rioting in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford in May, June and July 2001 respectively. The riots occurred in deprived areas where there was considerable segregation between different communities. Significant economic deprivation consequent upon the collapse of the textile industry lay at the roots of community tension, with Muslim and White young men stereotyping the Other and venting their frustrations on each other. Mounting conflict between them, inflamed by the presence of extreme right-wing organisations, eventually led to pitched battles between them as well as the police (Kundnani, 2001).

3.2 A flurry of reports followed the riots. What was significant, in contrast to most previous analyses, was that they downplayed inequality generally and economic factors and institutional racism in particular. While they differed in certain respects, they all emphasised the importance of community cohesion. The Cantle report is typical in this respect. The report pictures the northern towns in question as characterised by separate communities who lead parallel lives without a meta-community to tie them together (Cantle, 2001). The official response to the riots evident in this and other reports lays much (but not all) of the responsibility for them on to Muslims. The official response not only downplays the importance of economic factors but also, two years after publication of the Macpherson report, no longer places any real emphasis on institutional racism. And yet, as Waddington (2007) points out, British Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth had not only been left unemployed but also faced 'racial harassment and the perceived indifference of the police to the safety of their communities'. Attention was placed instead on the segregation of Muslims, much of which is deemed to be self-imposed. It is crucial in this context that inter-community relationships develop and all communities accept common British values (McGhee, 2003).

3.3 David Blunkett, who had replaced Jack Straw as Home Secretary accepted this analysis. Expressly abandoning the concept of institutional racism, he saw the riots as reflecting the failure of successive governments effectively to manage immigration and integration. He focused on the need to forge greater loyalty to the nation and announced measures to promote shared citizenship, including a requirement for immigrants to learn English, before being granted citizenship, and denounced values and practices such as forced marriages which he saw as un-British. 'We have norms of acceptability,' he said shortly before December's reports into [the 2001] disturbances, 'And those who come into our home – for that is what it is – should accept those norms just as we would have to do if we went elsewhere' (Younge, 2002). To present members of minority ethnic communities in this way is to present them as visitors rather than integral members of the nation and to forget that most, including the rioters, were born in this country. Their right to be British is no longer unqualified within this discourse but has to be demonstrated.

3.4 This analysis focuses on the cultural rather than the economic, and the seeming lack of cultural integration of Muslims. What such an analysis fails to acknowledge is not only the material roots of the disorders but also the degree of cultural assimilation by second generation Muslims young men into a consumer culture that has raised aspirations and into a masculine culture that valorises violence. Racist exclusion in such a context can generate a strong sense of relative deprivation and consequently an assertive commitment 'to defending Asian communities against the malicious threat of white racists' (Waddington, 2007).

3.5 The co-ordinated attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on September 11, 2001 helped to consolidate an emerging discourse that sees institutional racism as less significant than the threat of Muslim disorder/terrorism and identifies the central issue as that of cultural integration. This shift I see as problematic. While I share some of the misgivings expressed about the concept of institutional racism as an analytical tool (Pilkington, 2003), it alerted us to the importance of routine practices/occupational cultures in sustaining racial inequality. The collapse of this concept did not entail greater analytical sophistication but manifested a shift to a discourse that no longer saw inequality as critical.

Multiculturalism under Attack

4.1 If the official response to the Northern riots in 2001 signalled a de-prioritisation of equality as a central policy objective, mounting attacks on multiculturalism since that time indicate that diversity is no longer something to be celebrated. New Labour's earlier representation of the nation as Cool Britannia did not ring true as increasing doubts were expressed about multiculturalism, a phenomenon not unique to Britain (Joppke, 2004). 'By 2004, it was common to read or hear that the cultural separatism and self-segregation of Muslim migrants represented a challenge to Britishness and that a "politically correct" multiculturalism had fostered fragmentation rather than integration' (Modood, 2005).

4.2 In the post-war period, Britain has been more sympathetic to the notion of multicultural citizenship than its European neighbours, Germany and France, and thus more accommodating to the concerns of minority ethnic communities (Castles, 1995). We must not, however, overstate Britain's commitment to multicultural citizenship, which has always been more tentative than that of Canada. It has also by no means been without contradiction, with the trajectory of its immigration policy in the post-war period becoming more exclusionary and racially biased (Kymlika, 2003). What is more, multiculturalism has always been highly contested in Britain (Pilkington, 2003 and 2005). While proponents have highlighted the importance of publicly recognising and respecting identities that are important to people, critics from the left have tended to identify it as a mode of social control, which neglects racism and wider social inequality, and critics on the right have tended to worry about its purported threat to national culture. The latest onslaught on multiculturalism has taken on a somewhat different form, with those who would describe themselves as progressive social democrats not only taking the lead but also mounting arguments that resonated across the political spectrum.

4.3 Two highly influential critiques have been put forward by David Goodhart (2004), the editor of Prospect and Trevor Phillips (2004), the chair at the time of the Commission for Racial Equality. Let us deal with each in turn because they are somewhat different.

4.4 For Goodhart what is problematic is the multicultural itself, notably ethnic diversity. Immigration has entailed so much ethnic diversity that it is increasingly difficult to sustain a welfare state. A welfare state inevitably entails redistribution. While people are willing to accept the costs involved in redistribution when they feel a sense of solidarity with fellow nationals, they are extremely reluctant to do this when it entails support for people whom they identify as strangers. The reason for this is simple: 'We feel more comfortable with, and are readier to share with and sacrifice for, those with whom we have shared histories and similar values. To put it bluntly – most of us prefer our own kind' (Goodhart, 2004). Since too much diversity erodes solidarity, 'it is important to reassure the majority that the system of entering the country and becoming a citizen is under control'. Goodhart applauds David Blunkett for grasping the nettle in recognising both the need to control the rate of immigration and 'the need for more integration of some immigrant communities – especially Muslim ones' (Goodhart, 2004).

4.5 The authors of The New East End (Dench et al, 2006) illustrate what Goodhart has in mind. They highlight the tremendous resentment felt by the white indigenous working class in the east end about the allocation of council housing. Here precedence was often given to the Bangladeshi newcomers because need rather than contributions determined allocation. This was seen as unfair and led some to turn away from Labour and towards the far right. Indeed, a local Labour MP, Margaret Hodge has been so concerned about this, she argued in May 2007, to the chagrin of many of her colleagues who believed it was essential to build more social housing, that indigenous families should have priority in council housing regardless of need.

4.6 Goodhart's thesis has been very controversial but it can't be easily dismissed. Indeed, a recent study by Robert Putnam (2007) in the US provides some support for Goodhart's central argument. Putnam's concern is with social capital, the informal networks that people draw upon in their everyday lives. A comparison of local communities in the US leads him to conclude that greater ethnic diversity leads to lower levels of trust and social capital. Ethnic diversity not only results in the reduction of bridging capital between members of different ethnic groups but also bonding capital between members of the same ethnic group.

4.7 While there is some congruence between Goodhart's thesis and Putnam's thesis (Giddens, 2007), we need to be circumspect about generalising from the American experience. 'There is as yet no evidence that immigration will have the same effect on European welfare states that race has historically had on the American welfare state' (Banting & Kymlika, 2006). Indeed cross national data suggest that 'the size of immigrant groups…in Western countries does not affect a country's ability to sustain its welfare commitments'. As for Britain, there is no evidence 'that public opposition to increasing ethnic diversity is leading to an erosion in social trust and a decline in support for the welfare state' (Banting & Kymlika, 2006). We need further research in this area to be more definitive, but there is little doubt that current empirical evidence indicates that Goodhart's thesis 'is overstated'.

4.8 Goodhart's claim that there may be a tension between diversity and solidarity is incontrovertible. His further claim, however, that these principles are in fact in conflict is more debatable. The plausibility of Goodhart's thesis depends in fact on 'solidarity and diversity being opposed by their very definition. Solidarity can be thicker or thinner, more or less intense. Diversities too can have more or less overlapping commonalities with the values that bind a nation together. Put more concretely, only if it is assumed that minority ethnic communities are internally homogeneous to an unusually high degree; that they are united by values and habits of behaviour radically different from a majority culture; and if the history and cultures of the ethnic majority are of such an unrealistically unified character that the nation as a whole cannot but be threatened, does the Goodhart thesis hold true' (Rattansi, 2004a). These assumptions are in fact erroneous.

4.9 For Phillips what is problematic is not the multicultural itself but multiculturalism, the (or at least some of the) policies that entail 'some level of public recognition and support for…minorities to maintain and express their distinct identities and practices' (Banting & Kymlika, 2006). Phillips spells out his position as follows: 'My quarrel is not with those who like diversity. It is with those who want to make a fetish of our historical differences to the point where multiculturalism, as it is practiced, becomes ridiculous, or worse still, a dangerous form of benign neglect and exclusion' (Connections, 2004/05). While multiculturalism at an earlier stage represented a demand for respect and to be acknowledged as both black and British, it is now time to move on. Rejecting the legitimacy of demands to preserve old cultures exactly as they were in modern Britain and sceptical of the value of mere celebrations of diversity, Phillips emphasises what we share in common as British citizens and advocates integration. 'Integration', he recognises, 'only works if it both recognises newcomers' differences and extends complete equality' (Phillips, 2004). We are in danger, as he puts it in a famous soundbite of 'sleep walking to segregation'. We must wake up and reject multiculturalism, which he depicts as entailing separateness between communities. What is needed instead is race equality and the adoption of common values.

4.10 A plethora of commentators have taken their cue from Phillips and subsequently presented devastating critiques. Here is George Alagiah in the Daily Mail in 2006: My fears for Apartheid UK screams the main headline, with the Mail following this up also in bold by the announcement that 'BBC newsreader George Alagiah, himself an immigrant, warns the excesses of multiculturalism have created racial segregation in Britain that should alarm us all.' It goes on 'BBC newsreader…says taking the policy too far has created segregated areas like "apartheid's social engineers dreamed of" in South Africa. He warns that race relations diktats have created "ring-fenced" communities in some parts of Britain and may even be fuelling home-grown terrorism' (Alagiah, 2006). So multiculturalism is responsible then not only for segregation but also terrorism! And here is Jonothan Sacks, who does not demur from this judgement, in The Times in 2007: 'Multiculturalism is a disaster' announces the headline. For multiculturalism has bred segregation and intolerance, while political correctness, its ally, is threatening free speech (Sacks, 2007).

4.11 The critiques mounted by Phillips, Alagiah and Sacks are deliberately pitched at a popular audience. A more considered critique aimed at an academic audience has recently been mounted by O'Donnell (2007). What it is noticeable is that similar arguments are marshalled to challenge multiculturalism. O'Donnell outlines two main arguments to indicate that multiculturalism threatens social solidarity. The first criticism of multiculturalism is that it overemphasises differences between people and thus obscures communalities. It is in short divisive and thus corrosive of social cohesion. The second criticism of multiculturalism is its valorisation of political correctness. While 'minority rights reforms' have played an important role in outlawing discrimination, they have brought in their wake political correctness. This has in turn stifled freedom of expression, inhibited open cross-cultural dialogue and distorted policy formulation. In such a scenario, 'resentment can build up', with 'issues erupting dangerously' and well intentioned policies being developed that fail to address key issues. This situation entails a 'threat to social solidarity'.

In Defence of Multiculturalism

5.1 Let me deal with each criticism in turn (see also Pilkington, 2007). We can distinguish, following Miller (2006) a moderate and radical conception of multiculturalism. A moderate conception sees policies that recognise and accommodate minority identities (for example being Muslim) as working in tandem with policies that promote a national identity that embraces these distinct identities (for example being British). A radical conception by contrast believes that it is unnecessary for policies that acknowledge different identities to be accompanied by others that seek to inculcate an overarching national identity. While multiculturalism does of course have divergent meanings and takes different forms, it is exceptional for proponents not to highlight the need for respect for difference to be complemented by adherence to some common values and indeed 'no country in the West has adopted radical multiculturalism' (Banting & Kymlika, 2006). What is being attacked here is a straw man.

5.2 It is difficult not to resist the temptation to see multiculturalism as an easy scapegoat for concerns about disorder and terrorism. For multiculturalism cannot seriously be seen as causing segregation since segregation predates the heyday of multiculturalism and is in fact declining (Simpson 2004). And multiculturalism cannot be seriously be seen as responsible for Islamic radicalism since the latter can also be found in France which has expressly rejected multiculturalism (Abbas, 2006).

5.3 Let us turn to the other criticism O'Donnell makes of multiculturalism, the purported association of multiculturalism with political correctness. My reading of the race relations legislation in Britain is somewhat different to O'Donnell's. In particular it seems strange to me to characterise it as 'the minority rights reforms'. The emphasis of the 1965 and 1968 Acts was on like treatment with the overall thrust being individualist. The 1976 Act moved beyond like treatment in two respects – firstly, by acknowledging indirect discrimination and secondly, by encouraging positive action (but not positive discrimination) – and the 2001 (Amendment) Act has gone a little further with its introduction of a general statutory duty on public authorities. These measures, it is true, exemplify an acknowledgement of group rights, but the legislation has been primarily informed by a liberal perspective rather than a communitarian one. What I also find surprising in O'Donnell's account is the strong implication that legislation has indeed entailed political correctness. Post war legislation has not in my view curtailed freedom of expression in any significant way. It outlaws speech which is intended to incite race or religious hatred. And surely that is appropriate.

5.4 It is true that legislative changes have been accompanied by normative changes about what is acceptable to say and publish. References to niggers and Pakis are now generally unacceptable, and the Black and White Minstrels is no longer part of our television viewing schedule on Saturday evenings. This is on the whole, as I am sure O'Donnell would agree, a positive development. We can scarcely urge Muslims and other minority groups to integrate if we are insulting them. Not all would agree, however. For some, the above smacks of political correctness, with images conjured up of the thought police cajoling us to stay in tune with the latest party line. Labelling attempts to be sensitive in the way we address and represent people as political correctness, however, is to fall prey to a right wing discourse which is dismissive of the ideals relating to human rights and social equality that O'Donnell, like myself, holds dear. While it is true that many people do see legislation as leading to political correctness (note for example the common perception that the law entails positive discrimination as well as inhibitions on freedom of expression), that is in my view a mistake. What such misperceptions signal instead is how susceptible people are to a right wing anti-PC discourse. This discourse turns the world upside down. The problem is not the stereotyping, stigmatising and marginalising of vulnerable groups, but PC zealots who threaten freedom of speech. It is remarkable that this discourse has become so pervasive. The vitriol thrown at the Parekh report and multiculturalism, and indeed the current demonisation of Muslims, by large sections of the media scarcely indicate an intimidated press. I would suggest that what such coverage indicates instead is the hegemonic position of a right wing anti-PC discourse (Ackroyd & Pilkington, 2007).

5.5 Contrary to O'Donnell's view that multiculturalism has no significant role to play in sustaining solidarity, and indeed may undermine it, I concur with Modood (2005) when he argues that 'multiculturalism is still an attractive and worthwhile political project; and indeed we need more of it rather than less'. Multiculturalism for Modood is a form of integration. It entails changes on the part of established institutions as well as minority groups in a process of mutual accommodation. What is crucial in the current context is that British Muslims are represented in the public sphere, that there is genuine dialogue, that pragmatic and mutual adjustments are made and that over time we move towards a situation where, irrespective of difference, people experience equal respect. What is especially damaging to multiculturalism are ideologies that represent the social world in terms of a simple binary opposition, the West/Islam whereby people are divided into two mutually exclusive categories. While Islamophobia and Islamist ideologies comprise mirror images of each other, neither are 'conducive to fostering dialogue, respect for difference, to seeking common ground and negotiated accommodation, in short to citizenship in general and above all to multicultural citizenship' (Modood, 2007).

Muslims under Siege

7.1 Since September 11, 2001, 'to be a Muslim is to be under suspicion, under threat and, given the huge increase in racial violence, under attack' (Younge, 2001). In Britain, the situation has worsened with the bombings of July 7, 2005, the abortive bombings of 21 July, 2005, the alleged conspiracy of August, 2006 to blow up 10 planes (all in London) and the attempted bombing of August 2007 in Glasgow. While the coordinated attacks in the US had been deeply shocking, they had taken place in another country and could be seen to be the product of fanatics. In 2005 and 2006, the conspiracies were closer to home with most of those responsible for the atrocities being Muslims born and/or brought up in Britain. This has placed the issue of Muslim integration at the heart of political debate.

7.2 While the government and (much of) the media have continued to emphasise that the enemy is terrorism and not Islam, there is little doubt that a discourse celebrating Britain's multicultural society is on the retreat (Rattansi, 2004b) and in its stead a nationalist discourse from different sides of the political spectrum has been revived (West, 2005; Goodhart, 2006), a discourse which highlights community cohesion and urges Muslims to integrate (Modood, 2005). This discourse has become extremely powerful as others have become sidelined and has become institutionalised in public policies in a range of areas, including immigration and counter terrorism (McGhee, 2005).

7.3 Three developments have been particularly noticeable: renewed attempts to redefine Britishness as an inclusive identity; the priority given to community cohesion in policy development; and the insistence on the need for integration. We shall take each in turn.

Britishness: The Glue for a Modern Age

8.1 There have been a number of attempts to redefine Britishness in an inclusive fashion (for example Cook, 2001). The current Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been pre-eminent here and in a series of speeches (2004, 2006) has sought to re-imagine Britishness. 'The issue is whether we retreat into more exclusive identities rooted in 19th century conceptions of blood, race and territory, or whether we are still able to celebrate a British identity which is bigger than the sum of its parts and a Union that is strong because of the values we share and because of the way these values are expressed through our history and institutions' (Brown, 2004). He goes on to present an ethnically inclusive rather than ethnically exclusive picture of Britain. While he acknowledges the fact we have multiple identities, he seeks to identify some common values: 'I believe that because these islands - and our maritime and trading traditions – have made us remarkably outward looking and open, this country has fostered a vigorously adaptable society and given rise to a culture both creative and inventive. But an open and adapting society also needs to be rooted and Britain's roots are on the most solid foundation of all – a passion for liberty anchored in a sense of duty and intrinsic commitment to tolerance and fair play' (Brown, 2004). By re-imagining Britishness in this way, Brown hopes to win people around to identify with the nation. In this way Britishness would provide the glue that enables people who differ in many other ways to stick together.

8.2 There are of course problems with in such re-imaginings. The values that are discovered as British (liberty, responsibility and fairness) are clearly not uniquely British but are shared by many peoples. And there is a tendency when excavating British history to gloss over past atrocities. Nonetheless, I concur with Modood in recognising the powerful appeal of nationalism and the need to re-imagine the nation. While we might be cognitively pulled towards cosmopolitanism, the latter does not have the same emotional pull as nationalism. 'The reaffirming of a plural, changing, inclusive British identity, which can be as emotionally and politically meaningful to British Muslims as the appeal of jihadi sentiments, is critical to isolating and defeating extremism' (Modood, 2005). I believe therefore that it is important to re-imagine Britishness so that it has widespread appeal. This may not be 'a sufficient basis for social solidarity', but it may nonetheless be necessary.

Community Cohesion: The New Policy Goal

9.1 Since the July bombings in 2005, an agenda concerned with community cohesion has been a key priority. We can distinguish here hard and soft versions of community cohesion (Wetherell, Lafleche & Berkeley, 2007). A hard version sees community cohesion and multiculturalism as ineluctably at loggerheads and insists that we abandon the divisiveness evident in multiculturalism and instead exhibit adherence to British values. Community cohesion transmogrifies here into assimilationism. A soft version sees community cohesion as complementing rather than replacing multiculturalism. Only in this way can the community cohesion agenda not lapse into assimilationism. In addition, the soft version recognises that the promotion of community cohesion requires inequality and racism to be addressed.

9.2 While both versions can be detected, the one highlighted by the Secretary of State for Communities, Ruth Kelly tended to be of the harder kind (Worley, 2005). In announcing the launch of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion in August 2006 to discover how local areas can play a role in forging cohesion, Ruth Kelly stressed that it was important 'not to be censored by PC', wondered whether multiculturalism was 'encouraging separateness' and emphasised how Britain needed to tackle ethnic tensions. Her speech glossed over any structural roots of any tensions and stressed to migrants 'their responsibility to integrate and contribute to the local community' (Kelly, 2006). Darra Singh was an obedient chair. He stuck to the limited remit he had been granted and studiously avoided mentioning in his final report in June 2007 policy areas relating to social housing, faith schools, the marketisation of education or the Iraq war, all of which arguably have a significant role to play in inhibiting community cohesion. Discussion of multiculturalism was placed on the backburner and emphasis placed instead on the need to take account of the local context and identify what works at the local level. The tenor of the report can be gleaned from two of its proposals which both warrant separate appendices: the juxtaposition of English and translation services, with a marked preference for the former; and a recommendation that priority should be given in the allocation of funding to groups making links between communities rather than single groups (Commission on Integration & Cohesion, 2007). Both these proposals implicitly see multiculturalism and community cohesion as in opposition. They signal a shift away from being accommodating to minority concerns and point to a cohesion agenda where people are required to become less welfare dependent and are instead cajoled into learning English and develop cross-community networks.

Integration: A Duty Rediscovered

10.1 This message has subsequently been reiterated and a third concept reaffirmed, notably integration. In one of his valedictory speeches on 'Our Nation's Future' in December 2006, the Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted that people have a duty to integrate. 'The right to be in a multicultural society was always, always balanced by a duty to integrate, to be part of Britain, to be British and Asian, British and black, British and white'. While he acknowledges that inequality still needs to be tackled, his overwhelming emphasis is on British values and the need for these to be upheld. The duty to integrate entails in his view a six point programme. This programme emphasises cultural integration and is quite clearly addressed primarily to Muslims: the undesirability of funding single community groups, the inadmissibility of forced marriages & the unfairness of male domination in mosques; the importance of common allegiance to the law; the unacceptability of extremist preachers; the insistence that all schools (including faith schools) teach common citizenship values and tolerance for different faiths; and the obligation on citizens and residents to learn English (Blair, 2006).

10.2 Although Blair at least pays lip service to equality and diversity, the overriding emphasis is on Muslim integration rather than Muslim exclusion. What is more, the question is, How can we integrate them? rather than, How can we live with difference? Formulating the question, as Blair does, draws a sharp line between us and them where they are seen as exhibiting pathological values. The alternative formulation by contrast invites people from different communities to engage in a conversation where we can all learn from each other and there is not an automatic presumption that 'other cultures…do nothing but create problems' (Parekh, 2007).

10.3 The tendency to see Muslims (and other minority groups) as the Other is strongly embedded in British culture. It was evident for example earlier in 2006 when the Leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw expressed some discomfort with Muslim women wearing the niquab, a veil covering the face. For Straw, the veil was a 'statement of separation' and inhibited integration. Following Straw's intervention, there was a media frenzy as politicians vied with each other in urging Muslim women not to wear the veil, a piece of clothing which was typically seen as a sign of backwardness. Despite the fact that only a few Muslim women wore the veil, the issue remained a major news item for some time (Bunting, 2006). It was consonant with the familiar news framework which depicted Muslims as the Other and served to confirm their essential difference. The veil symbolised in dramatic fashion their segregation and their self-segregation and thus the importance of integrating them into British values. The clear implication is that it is Muslims who are to blame for their lack of integration, an implication made absolutely explicit in (much of) the tabloid press where binary oppositions of Us/Them; The West/the Rest; the British/Moslems are routinely reproduced and Muslims are demonised (Freedland, 2006). There is evident here an extreme reluctance to have a genuine conversation and acknowledge that some British values might be less than desirable and that dressing modestly might be a legitimate option in a highly sexualised public sphere. What is also significant is the almost complete neglect given by politicians and thereby the media to the economic disadvantages faced by Muslims (Peach, 2005). The findings of a major research programme on poverty and ethnicity in April 2007, which showed that 60% of Pakistani children and 74% of Bangladeshi children grow up in poverty (Platt, 2007), for example, scarcely registered with the media. Inequality is not as newsworthy as diversity and diversity is only newsworthy when it fits a familiar news framework which identifies cohesion as the central issue.

10.4 An acknowledgement that Muslims are demonised is perfectly consistent with a recognition that Britain does face a threat from jihadists and that we do need to address the alienation of many young British Muslims who are in some cases drawn to Islamism. The threat may be exaggerated but we cannot wish it away. But demonising Islam and Muslims, failing to address relative poverty and ignoring legitimate demands are not appropriate ways to win hearts and minds. It is of course important to insist that all communities adhere to certain common values, but this should not override other policy objectives such as the promotion of racial equality and the accommodation of minority concerns.

A Challenge to the Dominant Racial Discourse: Equality and Human Rights

11.1 Inevitably I have been constructing a narrative in this paper and it is a narrative that seeks to present a coherent story. Equality and diversity have been de-prioritised as an agenda around cohesion takes centre stage. In the process there is a very real danger that the gains that have been made will not be maintained let alone built upon. It is important, however, not to overstate my case or assume complete consistency in the government's approach. What should be noted in this context is the continuing concern of some parts of the machinery of government with racial equality throughout the period I have been discussing.

11.2 While there are inconsistencies evident in the government's approach and these leave open spaces for positive measures to be taken at the local level, the overriding emphasis of the shifting discourse is to move the agenda away from equality and diversity and towards social cohesion, in sociological parlance away from the dominant post-war Weberian approach and back to a Durkheimian approach.

The Way Forward

12.1 The much maligned Parekh report does in my view provide us with a way forward. The report suggests that it is helpful to think of Britain as 'a community of communities and a community of citizens' (Parekh, 2000). Thinking of Britain as a community, it is argued, alerts us to the importance of a common sense of belonging and the need for shared values and social cohesion. Thinking of Britain as a community of communities challenges the conventional view of Britain as divided into two seemingly homogeneous groupings, a white majority and ethnic minorities, and urges us instead to recognise that Britain comprises a number of fluid, overlapping and internally diverse national, regional and ethnic communities which cut across any simple majority/minority division. This means that treating people with due regard to respect for differences is not an issue only of concern to minority ethnic groups. At the same time, the report emphasises that it would be inappropriate to think of Britain purely in these terms since we are not only members of distinct communities but are also individuals who deserve to be treated equally. We need therefore to think of Britain not only as a community of communities but also as a community of citizens.

12.2 Conceptualising Britain, and its constituent communities, in these terms entails a need to strike a balance between cohesion, equality and difference. By visualising Britain as a community of communities and a community of citizens, the report expresses support for the three principles of cohesion, equality and difference. 'They must be held together, qualifying and challenging each other, yet also mutually informing and enriching' (Parekh, 2000).

12.3 This raises a conundrum, however, since these principles are, at least in part, at odds with each other. How do we reconcile these contrary values? If we followed the arguments of O'Donnell and Sacks, one might be led to expect cultural relativism to prevail, with minority rights trouncing human rights. This is in fact far from the case.

12.4 The report acknowledges the impossibility of resolving the tension between the values of cohesion, equality and difference. Nonetheless it presents some pointers, which enable a balance to be struck between these values. Some 'common values are necessary to hold [Britain] together and give it cohesion' (Parekh, 2000). These are of two forms: procedural and substantive. Procedural values are those, such as tolerance, mutual respect and rationality, which provide 'the basic preconditions for democratic dialogue'. Substantive values are those enshrined in international human rights standards which 'underpin any defensible conception of the good life…On the basis of such values it is legitimate to ban female circumcision, forced marriages, cruel punishment of children, and repressive and unequal treatment of women, even though these practices may enjoy cultural authority in certain communities' (Parekh, 2000). While these values set limits to permissible differences, the report argues that people should otherwise be free to pursue their own conceptions of the good life, and these may of course differ profoundly. We are still left therefore with the question of how the competing claims of difference and equality can both be recognised. Here the report emphasises the need for the public sphere to be more pluralistic and for disputes to be resolved through intercultural dialogue and negotiation.

12.5 It is critical in my view that we ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between the principles of equality, diversity and social cohesion. The shifting nature of racial discourse since 2001 is in my view threatening to undermine the gains we have made. We must not allow this to happen.


ABBAS, T (2006) 'Seeds of Discontent',

ACKROYD, J & Pilkington, A (2007) 'You're not allowed to say that: Minefields and political correctness', Caribbean Quarterly, Vol.23, Nos.1&2.

ALAGIAH, G (2006) 'My fears for Apartheid Britain', Daily Mail, August 21.

BANTING, K. & Kymlika, W. (2006) (eds) Multiculturalism and the Welfare State, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

BLAIR, T. (2006) 'The Duty to Integrate: Shared British Values',

BOURNE, J (2001) 'The Life and Times of Institutional Racism' Race and Class, Vol.43, No.2.

BROWN, G. (2004) 'Gordon Brown's speech', The Guardian, July 8.

BROWN, G. (2006) 'The Future of Britishness',

BUNTING, M. (2006) 'Straw's Storm of Prejudice', The Guardian, 12 October.

CANTLE, T. (2001) Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team, London: Home Office.

CARMICHAEL, S & Hamilton, C. (1967) Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, New York: Vintage Books.

CASTLES, S. (1995) 'How Nation-States Respond to Immigration and Ethnic Diversity', New Community, Vol. 21, No. 3.

COMMISSION ON INTEGRATION AND COHESION (2007) Our Shared Future, Wetherby: Communities and Local Government.

CONNECTIONS (2004/05) 'What Now for Multiculturalism?' Connections, Winter 2004/05.

COOK, R. (2001) Extracts from a speech by the foreign secretary to the Social Market Foundation in London, The Guardian, April 19

DENCH, G., Gavron, K. & Young, M. The New East End, London: Profile.

DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (DCLG) (2007a) Improving Opportunity: Strengthening Society: Two Years On, Wetherby: Communities and Local Government.

DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (DCLG) (2007b) Race Equality in Public Services, Wetherby: Communities and Local Government.

Equalities review (2007) Fairness and Freedom, Wetherby: Communities and Local Government.

FREEDLAND, J. (2006) 'If this onslaught was about Jews, I would be looking for my passport' The Guardian, 18 October

GIDDENS, A. (2007) 'Diversity and Trust', Prospect Magazine, Issue 140, November.

GILLBORN, D (2008) Racism and Education, London: Routledge.

GOODHART, D. (2004) 'Discomfort of Strangers', The Guardian, February 24

GOODHART, D. (2006) Progressive nationalism, London: Demos

HOME OFFICE (2005a) Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society, London, Home Office.

HOME Office (2005b) Race Equality in Public Services, London: Home Office

JOPPKE, C. (2004) 'The Retreat of Multiculturalism in the Liberal State: Theory and Practice', British Journal of Sociology, Vol 55, No 2

KELLY, R (2006) 'Ruth Kelly's Speech on Integration and Cohesion', The Guardian, August 24.

KUNDNANI, A. (2001) 'From Oldham to Bradford: The Violence of the Violated' in Institute of Race Relations (ed) The Three Faces of British Racism', London, IRR.

KYMLIKA, W. (2003) 'Immigration, Citizenship, Multiculturalism: Exploring the Links', Political Quarterly, Vol.74, No.1.

MACPHERSON, W. (1999) The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, London, Stationary Office.

MCGHEE, D. (2003) 'Moving to "Our" Common Ground – A Critical Examination of Community Cohesion Discourse in Twenty First Century Britain', The Sociological Review, Vol.51, No.3.

MCGHEE, D. (2005) 'Patriots of the Future? A Critical Examination of Community Cohesion Strategies in Contemporary Britain' Sociological Research Online, Vol.10, No.2.

MILLER, D. (2006) Multiculturalism and the Welfare State: Theoretical Reflections' in K. Banting and W. Kymlika (eds) (2006) (eds) Multiculturalism and the Welfare State, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MODOOD, T (2005) 'Remaking multiculturalism after 7/7, openDemocracy, 29 September

MODOOD, T (2007) Multiculturalism, Cambridge: Polity,

O'DONNELL, M. (2007) 'We Need Human Rights Not Nationalism "Lite": Globalisation and British Solidarity, Ethnicities, Vol. 7, No.2.

PAREKH, B. (2000) The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, London: Profile Books

PAREKH, B. (2001) 'Reporting on a Report', Runnymede Bulletin, No.326.

PAREKH, B. (2007) 'The Fact of Multiculturalism – and Its Value, Runnymede Bulletin, No.350.

PEACH, C (2005) 'Muslims in Britain' in T Abbas (ed) Muslim Britain, London: Zed Books

PHILLIPS, T. (2004) 'Multiculturalism's Legacy is "Have a Nice Day" Racism', The Guardian, May 28.

PILKINGTON, A (2003) Racial Disadvantage and Ethnic Diversity in Britain, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

PILKINGTON, A (2005) 'Social cohesion, racial equality and ethnic diversity' in M Holborn (ed) Developments in Sociology, Volume 21, Ormskirk: Causeway Press.

PILKINGTON, A. (2007) 'In Defence of both Multiculturalism and Progressive Nationalism: A Response to Mike O'Donnell, Ethnicities, Vol. 7, No.2.

PLATT, L. (2007) Poverty and Ethnicity in the UK, Bristol: The Policy Press.

PUTNAM, R (2007) 'E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty First Century', Scandinavian Political Studies, Vol.30, No.2.

RATTANSI, A. (2004a) 'A False Dilemma', The Guardian, February 26.

RATTANSI, A (2004b) 'New Labour, New Assimilationism', openDemocracy, 07 October

SACKS, J (2007) 'Wanted: A National Culture', The Times, October 20.

SIMPSON, L. (2004) 'Statistics of Racial Segregation: Measures, Evidence and Policy' Urban Studies, Vol.41, No.3.

STRAW, J. (2000) Extract from his speech at the launch of the Parekh Report, Runnymede Bulletin, N.324.

WADDINGTON, D. (2007) Policing Public Order, Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

WEST, P (2005) The Poverty of multiculturalism, London: Civitas

WETHERELL (2007) 'Community Cohesion and Identity Dynamics: Dilemmas and Challenges' in M. Wetherell, M. Lafleche and R. Berkeley (eds) Identity, Ethnic Diversity and Community Cohesion, London: Sage.

WORLEY, C. (2005) '"It's Not About Race. It's About the Community": New Labour and "Community Cohesion"', Critical Social Policy, Vol.25, No.4.

YOUNGE, G. (2001) 'The Right to be British', The Guardian, 12 November.

YOUNGE, G. (2002) 'Britain is again White', The Guardian, 18 February.