Friday, 22 February 2013

It is time to move on from ‘Rivers of Blood’

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45 years ago this April, a British MP gave a speech that would define him, end his career and change our debate about immigration.

Enoch Powell was the MP and this is what he said, “[When I look at the level of immigration] I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”

It became known as the ‘Rivers of blood’ speech.  It was as shocking then as it is now.

It didn’t just change our debate on immigration, it changed our debate on integration. And in two key ways we still haven’t recovered from it.

Firstly, it put all our eyes on ethnic integration. It sucked our attention away from the growing divisions by income and age that affect our country. Integration must be as much about stopping our teenagers and pensions being scared of each other. It must be about addressing the fact that 50% of all poor children are in one fifth of the schools.

Secondly, it has set the bar for successful integration far too low.  We have for too long judged a successful integration policy on whether we avoid  ‘rivers of blood’. We have asked ‘Is there violence?’ when we should have asked ‘Is there friendship?’ The result is clear. Limited conflict but limited contact. Few riots in our schools – but one of the most segregated schools systems in the rich world.

It’s time to admit to ourselves that passive tolerance is not integration. Nor is a narrow focus on ethnicity.

It is time for a new debate on how we bring people together, on how we build new spaces and institutions where friendships flourish across lines of difference. That’s why the National Citizen Service is so
important. And why The Challenge Network is focused on reconnecting our society.

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