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In association with Winchester Universitys Centre for English

Identity and Politics

Time to take integration out of the too

difficult box
Harvey Redgrave
In 2014 Charles Clarke edited a book entitled The Too Difficult Box: the
big issues politicians cant crack. Of the 27 issues covered, integration
didnt feature, or at least not explicitly. This is not a criticism of Clarke.
Integration has rarely been the subject of political debate in the UK, let
alone classed as a big issue. But it should be.
To say so may seem counter-intuitive. When London hosted the Olympics in
2012, it showcased a city and country at ease with diversity, whose
experience of immigration has been a broadly positive one. Perhaps because
we Brits wear our identity lightly, issues of integration have always seemed
slightly less highly charged than on the continent. A combination of our
voting system and a moderate political culture has generally made Britain an
unattractive environment for the Far Right.
Nonetheless, integration should matter to Labour for two reasons. First
because there is a policy gap. The scale, pace and diversity of migration is
unprecedented in the modern era. Net migration is currently above 300,000,
with gross inward migration pushing 620,000 a year. It is the highest ever
recorded. Between 1993 and 2014, the number of foreign born people as a
proportion of the population more than doubled from 3.8 million to around
8.3 million.
And whilst the Far Right remains mercifully weak, Islamist extremism
shows no sign of abating. At least 800 people have travelled from the UK to
support or fight for jihadist organisations. In the midst of such profound
change and uncertainty, we cannot afford to assume peoples connections

with each other will just take care of themselves. Or, as Ed Miliband put it,
assume that people will organically learn to get on together, and that our
common life will flourish automatically. Integration needs to be planned,
nurtured and supported - it requires work.
Second, there are good political reasons for Labour to care about integration.
There is more common ground than most think between voters who are
sceptical about immigration and those who are positive about it. An
integration agenda has the potential for building a moderate coalition of
support on an issue that has traditionally polarised. The vast majority of the
public support the idea that people who come here should become one of
us by learning the language, becoming part of the community and working
Integration should be part of a positive vision of a modern Britain that is
fairer, more open and more inclusive. And it should matter to the Labour
Party because it underpins our values of solidarity, and reciprocity.
The urgency is greater still because after five years of inaction, the
Conservatives appear to be waking up to its importance. Last Summer,
David Cameron asked Louise Casey to lead a review on how to boost
opportunity and integration in some of our most deprived and isolated
communities. In January, partly in response to Caseys recommendations,
Cameron announced he would be making 20m available to pay for an
extension of English language lessons (ESOL), reversing his short-sighted
cuts earlier in the parliament.
Enabling more people to learn and speak English should be an idea Labour
can get behind. Research from the ONS shows that the average employment
rate for women who speak little or no English is 34 per cent (compared to 68
per cent for men). Not being able to speak English is catastrophic for
peoples life chances, as well as being bad for integration.
Instead of attacking Cameron for stigmatising Muslim women and
fuelling extremism, Labour should be urging Cameron to go further, for
example, by bringing together government, business and civil society in a
national effort to enable every woman living in Britain who wants to learn
English is able to do so, and setting out the countrys first genuine national
integration strategy.

This would obviously not be confined to helping people speak English. It

would look at the role of government in supporting integration through
planning regulation, the setting of school admissions, and cracking down on
the kinds of work-placed segregation still prevalent in parts of our labour
market. And it would need to be underpinned by a more convincing narrative
of change - one with a positive vision of how we want to live together.
Labour is well placed to lead this kind of debate. But doing so will require
taking integration out of the too difficult box.
Harvey Redgrave was head of home affairs policy for
the Labour Party and immigration advisor to Ed
Miliband between 2012 and 2015. He is now Director
of Strategy at Crest Advisory.
Political notes are published by One Nation Register and a
contribution to the debate shaping Labours political
renewal. The articles published in this England and Labour
issue of One Nation Register are part of an online debate
organised by the Centre for English Identity and Politics at
Winchester University.
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