Hopes for a less divided nation

English nationalism is a force that could yet undermine social harmony

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The Independent Online

It is richly ironic that a right-wing think tank should author a report which creates such a positive impression about immigration, ethnic integration and this polyglot nation. Positivity may be in the eye of the beholder, and I accept there are some people who will be alarmed by the findings of this Policy Exchange document, notably the headline conclusion that, by midway through this century, non-white people could make up a third of the British population.

But the picture presented in the report - a comprehensive study of Britain's black and ethnic minority groups - is one, I believe, which offers hope for a future where racial and ethnic tensions become increasingly rare. For example, there is the welcome trend towards integration between minority groups themselves - illustrated by the fact that one in eight multi-person households includes representatives of more than one ethnicity - and plenty of evidence that people from a ethnic backgrounds are more likely to associate themselves with Britain, or what they perceive to be British values, than the white population. Even the Daily Telegraph found the report cheering. "It is a reminder what a unifying concept Britain is," it said in a leading article. "Britain is a nation that so many of its newest citizens are proud to call their own."

I'm not in the habit of quoting other organs, but this is highly indicative of a changing attitude from those who would traditionally see hazard in the report's findings, and would bemoan the loss of British identity as a result of these seismic demographic changes. By 2050, Britain will have a young, educated, and, in the main, motivated workforce - for instance, the average British Bangladeshi is 22 years old, compared with an average age of 39 for a white Briton - and, in a highly competitive global market, this is more likely to give the UK an edge than a knowledge of morris dancing.

English - rather than British - identity is seen as the province of white people. Of those polled, 64 per cent of white people described their sole nationality as English, and only 14 per cent felt their nationality was British. These are significant figures, and a new English nationalism has been fed largely by a disenfranchised white working class who, understandably, feel insecure about the changes they see around them. English nationalism is a force that could yet undermine social harmony, and would explain why some of us feel uncomfortable about the increasing preponderance of the flag of St George (something we're going to see rather a lot of throughout the month of June).

I have always, however, found the idea of a homogeneous English, or indeed British, identity rather moot. And on the day when statistics show that parts of the UK are poorer than rural Poland, and meanwhile London is the richest city in Europe with an average spending power per capita of  £71,000, the belief that we are one nation, unified by a love of cricket, warm beer and Morecambe and Wise is outdated in the extreme. The social and economic inequality in Britain is such that we are a massively divided nation. We should be thankful that at least our ethnic minorities have a more holistic view of our country.