The first British city where the white population finds itself in a minority will be Leicester, in about 12 years, according to new research.
The conclusion by demographers from Manchester University, who believe Birmingham will also become a "plural city" five years later, was accompanied by a warning that recent estimates that plurality will be reached sooner than the predictions are not helping attempts to establish harmony in the cities.
Professor Ludi Simpson, a social statistician at the university, said that much of the increase in Leicester was due to the relatively younger age profile of British Asians in the city – and the excess of births over deaths – rather than increased immigration.
The issue of plurality is one which has exercised social scientists of late and the new Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) has been at pains to raise the issue. A CRE conference at London's City Hall last November included a workshop entitled "Plural cities: opportunity or timebomb?" – much to the alarm of the London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who accused the CRE of pursuing "alarmist" headlines rather then "meaningful discourse". The CRE said it was simply trying to articulate the challenges facing 21st-century Britain.
Professor Simpson was keen to play down the idea of a "tipping point", when the white community accounts for less than half of the population.
"The move from 51 per cent white to 49 per cent white involves no appreciable change, except to those whose politics involve colour or family origins as a basis for judgement of rights," he said.
He also considers discussion of "minority white cities" to be "a crude expression of a fear for the ungovernability of cities". It is alarmist, since "there are not similar concerns about 'black cities' in the Caribbean or in Brazil", he said . "If the white majority in a British city were all from Armenia, the same fear would be expressed. The concern is about newcomers, both new immigrants and children of former immigrants, in particular those who may have different values and experiences to the prevailing values and experiences in Britain and who may therefore upset the apple cart of the accepted way of life and governance," he added.
Trevor Phillips, director of the CRE's successor – the Commission for Equality and Human Rights – believes the advent of plural cities is "one of the most important consequences of globalisation". He spoke of the importance of preparing for them at an international discussion on the subject last year.
The discussion, which involved representatives from Leicester and Oldham as well as Cape Town, London, Los Angeles and Marseille, concluded that fostering strong city identities was crucial for bridging gaps between people and for improving integration.
Thirty-five towns and cities in Britain had at least one council ward which was "minority white", including Birmingham, Slough, Bolton and Derby, as well as Brent, Tower Hamlets, Ealing and Newham in London.
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