I believe the most important “elephant in the room” for the Left is the question of “Britishness” and our failure to protect what is accepted as the place we have reached in our social and cultural development.
We have ignored the fear of change coming too fast and being too drastic, collectively hoping it would all turn out right, not needing us to tackle such an uncomfortable – and huge – issue. The Left has attacked manifestations of resultant tensions, without admitting to ourselves that we have neglected the importance of Britishness to the British people. But the working class does not need lecturing on the need for cultural tolerance, particularly when the mistake of undue cultural tolerance leads to real grievances.
Our culture has continually changed and evolved over time, but this has historically been by increments over centuries, not dramatically over just decades or even years. It is not change itself, but the extreme nature and speed of change which is a problem. Whole areas of Britain have, in modern memory, become places which have different clothing, different languages, different folkways: different cultures. Because they are so different from what our population has settled into as British, and have become so different so quickly, without the Left promoting assimilation – mostly without the Left taking any position at all – the British people believe we do not recognise there is a problem. We profess to care about and seek to protect the British people, but have opted to look the other` way despite their concerns. This is an abrogation of our self assumed responsibilities and calls into question the credibility of the Left.
This has caused misunderstanding to turn into resentment; and received wisdom to label extreme differences as typical. Although not widespread, it is undeniable that some practices exist in some areas of cultural difference that are at odds with what has become acceptable in modern British society, such as arranged marriages, treatment of women as of lesser worth or as belongings, what most would see as cruel treatment of animals, or exemption from controls for religious reasons that the rest of the population believes it must observe. The general population is aware that some cultural practices not found in Britain in comparatively recent times are sometimes illegal, but do not see enforcement of our laws as effective, in contrast to actions in some European countries, who are otherwise very similar to Britain. For example:
- the French cannot understand our effectively allowing genital mutilation of young girls, as we “don’t like to” enforce health inspection of children, as some cultures would find this offensive (most recently given as a reason by a Tory minister!).
- profiteers are quite prepared to take advantage of any opportunity and are not prevented from profiteering from cultural practices – Halal/Kosher meat represents around 40% of meat production in Britain, to serve less than 4% of our population; the reality is it is a cheap way around our animal welfare laws, a scam which other nations – most recently the Dutch – have outlawed.
Perceiving – or actually observing correctly – behaviour clearly outside what has evolved to become acceptable in our society, but which is effectively permitted anyway, breeds a sense of unfairness and resentment. The void left by silence from the Left, or the mistake of actual cultural deference, has been filled by the easy answers of the far Right. The result is not Enoch Powell’s predicted “rivers of blood”; in some ways the result is worse, as resentment becomes locked into the collective psyche. Britain has a history of barbarism, some of it not that far distant, but we believe we have moved on. The Left has allowed suddenly different cultures within our own country to be seen as synonymous with cultures that still allow stoning, punitive amputations and child brides.
It will be a big task to address the reality of a situation we have allowed to develop by default. We may have to admit some of the “politically pure”stances taken by the Left sound to be more about lecturing people than facilitating slow, acceptable change. But to carry on ignoring this problem instead of facing up to it would be irresponsible. We know very well that people turning against a broken system in Europe quite recently led to the conditions for the Holocaust and World War II; in the Middle East, many people made desperate by the tyranny of despots are turning to religious fundamentalists as an immediate answer, storing up problems for themselves and for us.
The Left needs to recognise this huge elephant we have allowed to remain sitting in the room, take the lead and establish policies that bring an expectation of, and assist in, cultural assimilation. It is our duty, if we are serious socialists, to ensure the whole country can live and pull together, denying the far Right the opportunity to destroy our national unity forever.