Anti-racism group rejects Trevor Phillips’ claims that Britain is ‘sleepwalking to catastrophe’ over diversity

‘Phillips’ clumsy, top-down prescriptions seem out of touch with the reality we see on the ground’

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Tuesday 10 May 2016 14:14 BST
Trevor Phillips also attacked Tony Blair for overseeing a mass immigration policy that had caused multiculturalism to become a ‘racket’ in many parts of the UK
Trevor Phillips also attacked Tony Blair for overseeing a mass immigration policy that had caused multiculturalism to become a ‘racket’ in many parts of the UK (Charlie Forgham-Bailey)

A leading anti-racism charity has rejected the “dire” claims made by the UK’s former equalities chief Trevor Phillips that Britain is sleepwalking towards catastrophe over complacency about diversity, countering that his views are “out of touch with what we see on the ground”.

Mr Phillips, the former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, used his newly published essay ‘Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence’ to paint a grim picture of future community tensions and conflicts in Britain unless a “more muscular” approach to integration is adopted in place of the existing “laissez-faire” attitude.

Mr Phillips wrote in his essay: "In my view, squeamishness about addressing diversity and its discontents risks allowing our country to sleepwalk to a catastrophe that will set community against community, endorse sexist aggression, suppress freedom of expression, reverse hard-won civil liberties, and undermine the liberal democracy that has served this country so well for so long.

"Worst of all it may destroy popular support for the values that have, in my opinion, characterised the greatest political advances in my lifetime: equality and solidarity."

He adds: "Any attempt to ask whether aspects of minority disadvantage may be self-inflicted is denounced as 'blaming the victim'. Instead, we prefer to answer any difficult questions by focusing on the historic prejudices of the dominant majority. In short, it's all about white racism.

"This stance just won't do any more. In fact, in today's superdiverse society, it is dangerously misguided."

But anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate has called Mr Phillips’ vision of diversity “dire” and called his “clumsy, top-down prescriptions” out of touch with the reality it sees on the UK’s streets and within the communities it engages with.

The charity argues that its Fear and Hope 2016 report shows that young people are becoming increasingly tolerant about issues such as race and immigration, adding that in a study of over 5,000 people only eight per cent felt “strongly hostile” towards immigration – down from 13 per cent five years ago.

A spokesperson for the charity said that it believes “the majority of people want to solve the problems our society faces constructively and peacefully, and the Muslim community – or rather, the Muslim communities – are also evolving rapidly”.

“We work with Muslims across the country, including with many independent Muslim women. Even some conservative mosques are beginning to appoint women to management boards, and London now has a Muslim mayor – so things are changing.

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The spokesperson added: “Attention does need to be paid to extremists on all sides, and also to the plight of the white working class in de-industrialised areas, who are often abandoned to the likes to UKIP.

“But the picture is by no means as grim as Phillips paints and his clumsy, top-down prescriptions seem out of touch with the reality we see on the ground."

Mr Phillips’ essay has been published by the right-wing think tank Civitas, in which he claims there is "no shortage of public condemnation of 'racism"', referring to complaints about discriminatory behaviour, the "alleged fear of backlash against Muslims after each terrorist incident", campaigns to remove symbols of colonialism, and social media campaigns against "supposedly offensive" language.

But these are not the issues that generate public unease, he claims. "Rather it is the appearance of non-English names above the shop-fronts in the high street; the odd decision to provide only halal meat in some schools; evidence of corruption in municipal politics dominated by one ethnic group or another," he writes.

"Such headlines, frequently misreported, but often grounded in some real change, provoke muttering in the pub, or grumbling at the school gate. They become gathering straws in a stiffening breeze of nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment.

"And still, our political and media elites appear not to have scented this new wind. We maintain a polite silence masked by noisily debated public fictions such as 'multiculturalism' and 'community cohesion'.

"Rome may not yet be in flames, but I think I can smell the smouldering whilst we hum to the music of liberal self-delusion."

He observes that Britain is changing at "an extraordinary pace", adding: "We are now remaking our nation at speed."

Mr Phillips suggests a number of steps should be taken in the UK, including placing a duty on institutions to promote integration, ending the construction of production teams in factories by nationality and ensuring English is the standard working language.

He also believes that schools should be required to demonstrate they are making efforts to give their pupils a "real experience" of living in a diverse society - spelling an end to "the kind of ethnic takeover of state schools" seen in Birmingham during the "Trojan Horse" scandal, and that legal curbs on freedom of expression should be done away with and replaced with legislation ensuring only speech and gestures that directly encourage physical harm are restricted.

A Government spokesman said: "This Government is committed to creating an integrated society.

"The Prime Minister has commissioned a review to see what more we can do to create cohesive communities in England.

"The review will look at how we integrate all communities in Britain around a common set of values."

Additional reporting by PA

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