In a new report by Tony Blair’s non-profit, Institute of Global Change, Blair suggests that integration and assimilation by migrants is a core part of being British that migrants need to take on as their duty.
“Over a significant period of time, including when we were last in government, politics has failed to find the right balance between diversity and integration.
“On the one hand, failures around integration have led to attacks on diversity and are partly responsible for a reaction against migration. On the other hand, the word multiculturalism has been misinterpreted as meaning a justified refusal to integrate, when it should never have meant that.
“Particularly now, when there is increasing evidence of far-right bigotry on the rise, it is important to establish the correct social contract around the rights and duties of citizens, including those who migrate to our country.
“In this report, we make it clear that there is a duty to integrate, to accept the rules, laws and norms of our society that all British people hold in common and share, while at the same time preserving the right to practise diversity, which is fully consistent with such a duty.
Who is Tony Blair?
To those young enough (and some would say lucky enough) to not remember Tony Blair, he was the last British Labour Party member to win a general election. He was Prime Minister of the UK back when the word Brexit probably meant Weetabix was bringing out a healthy bran-version of their flagship breakfast item. In power from 1997 to 2007, Blair was the youngest Prime Minister the UK had seen since 1812. Aged just 43, he collected a small fan base.
Immensely popular for leading a government that oversaw huge increases in public spending and introduced the National Minimum Wage and the Human Rights Act, as well as negotiating The Good Friday Agreement, it seemed like Blair had it all going for him. That is until the Iraq War. His friendship with George W Bush (then President of the US), and his support to ‘find weapons of mass destruction’ eventually led to his decline and resignation.
After his resignation and the appointment of Gordon Brown as his successor, Blair disappeared for a period of time. Until now.
‘Multiculturalism has failed’
Multiculturalism is the view that cultural differences should be respected and/or even encouraged.
It was push in the 1970’s and 1980’s as a way of tackling racism. After a surge in immigration (due mostly to Windrush), multiculturalism became the way to persuade the (White) British people that globalisation and the increase in different cultures was a good thing. The gain from multiculturalism included clothing, languages but mainly food. Going to your local Indian (takeaway) for a chicken tikka masala was how the idea of multiculturalism was sold in the UK. It was about mutual learning, and allowed migrants to hold onto their customs and traditions as a way forward towards a more United Kingdom. Multicultural Britain acknowledged and understood its role in colonisation. It saw the benefits it has reaped and a value was attached to migrants. (Of course this value is problematic in itself. read: Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla).
In 1997 Tony Blair’s new Labour government committed to a multiculturalist approach at a national level, but after 2001 (and the terrorist attacks) there was something of a backlash, that let to the idea that diversity and integration were at odds. Enter Community Cohesion.
Social cohesion is defined as the willingness of members of a society to cooperate with each other in order to survive and prosper –
According to the Government, “a cohesive community is one where:
There is common vision and a sense of belonging for all communities;
The diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated and positively valued;
Those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; and
Strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.”
Community cohesion: i.e. assimilation was the cure proposed by the British Government to 9/11. After a series of riots that took place across the country (Bradford, Oldham, Burnley) in 2001, it became clear to the government that the reason for terrorism and violence in general was because im/migrants were holding onto their own cultures and languages (something multiculturalism embraced) and keeping within their communities. It was this divide that was causing friction. Community Cohesion suggested that ‘foreigners’ could become truly British, by taking on English Culture i.e. by integrating and assimilating.
Inter-faith initiatives were launched and suddenly the onus was shifted on im/migrants to do the work of stepping outside of their communities to integrate more.
The problem with asking for migrants to ‘integrate’
The problem with asking people to integrate is that it shifts the agenda towards assimilation of minorities and moves discussion away from the focus on inequalities and disadvantages.
In the UK we’ve moved onto talking about diversity and inclusion to move the conversation back to how the mainstream can be more inclusive. What Blair seems to be suggesting, it that the work must be done by the very people the system is disadvantaging. Rather than the far-right being blamed for their bigotry and the government investing in initiatives to force far-right people to step out of their echo chambers, Blair is suggesting that people of colour do this instead.
Asking people to let go of their culture and ‘become British’ by assimilating is dehumanising. In the same way that claiming you are ‘colour blind’ is racist so is the notion of assimilation. People don’t need to buy into British-ness, nor do they need to assimilate and integrate in order to make themselves ‘less of a threat’.
It is not the job of minorities to fight the racists. The responsibility and burden and most of all, the blame that Blair is laying on people of colour for the racism they face is unjust and unfair and frankly I thought we’d moved past this years ago.
How to deal with far-right bigotry
One more time, for the people in the back: it is not the job of the minorities to fight the racists. It is and should be a shared responsibility.
So how do we deal with far-right bigotry? For starters, we need to move the blame away from people of colour. Bigots need to step out of their echo chamber and have conversations with others. They need to learn and understand British Values. According to Ofsted, British values are: democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
Perhaps Blair needs to step back and remember that we are in 2019 now. We have moved on from blaming the ones that are discriminated against. Im/migration is not the problem, nor is multiculturalism. The problem is bigotry.
Whether you’re a fan of Blair or not it would be difficult not to notice the backlash he has received on social media.
Tony Blair, perhaps its time to stop trying to whitewash migrants and go back to avoiding accusations of war crimes.