Community Activists Network
ICOCO’s ‘At Ease With Each Other’ conference on community cohesion which took place Monday 23rd April in central London was, I believe, a step forward on the road to plain speaking and at looking at all sides of the race and immigration debate.
The events keynote speech was given by the Secretary of State For Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles, which was in some ways a damp squib with not much content relying mainly on sound bites. At one point he told the audience it was “all faiths and no faiths that needed to contribute to society” but gave no insights on how this should happen other than for us all to attend street parties for the Queens Jubilee, clearly by supporting the Royal Family we will keep Britain great and unite our nation.
From this the conference took a different turn as the speakers talked about issues that took the delegates out of their comfort zone. We heard that the Coalition wants to see Scouts and Guilds develop in none traditional Scouting areas ( this meant areas with large ethnic minority communities) and by doing so we would be automatically placing 400 ‘leaders’ in these communities.
David Goodhart Director of the think tank DEMOS really added to the discomfort factor of the day by telling the audience he believed that Government had done nothing to help people integrate but had instead put large numbers of uneducated immigrants into already struggling, deprived mill towns creating social issues that mere education would never alone be able to solve.
The groans and tuts of discomfiture could be heard, and felt, from the 100 plus attendees as the comments either went against the grain of usual thinking or that an honest opinion was being heard outside of the realms of political correctness.
What was interesting was that even though the speakers had raised points that the mainly liberal minded audience had not expected there were hardly any challenges from the floor during question time. Why was this? Simple, we expect a conference on community cohesion to provide a safe platform that all involved can expect to hear comforting like minded views that allow people to feel happy about being part of the solution whilst confirming their political correctness. The points raised by the floor at past conferences would mainly have told ministers that they weren’t adding enough money to the millions already ploughed into race issues and short term integration projects. This time no one bothered, perhaps there was a feeling of it being pointless to ask.
What did we learn? That immigration is an area of discussion that everyone is too scared to really address to any depth for fear of being called racist. It’s clear that people are no longer sure when common sense and plain speaking becomes racism so best say nothing. From my observations it was clear that the race debates now need to happen in an honest and open manner as the race and cohesion agenda has been left with no direction from Ministers within the Coalition. Is life in a Northern town happy or a perfect storm waiting to happen? Has the past Labour Government left behind a legacy of silence that drove underground logical debate for fear of the politically correct brigade labeling them? Have far too many decisions been made from Whitehall, leaving people to suffer on all sides as a result of their blinkered naivety? Eric Pickles certainly hid behind the old retoric of I’m not racist because I have a black friend, and in a world of no certainty and uncertainty of what is the correct thing to say all reminded quiet.
I praise ICOCO for starting this debate but the conference hall was not the safe place to have the discussions that needed to follow and that was clear from a lack of challenges to speakers. So what next? Lets have the debates in smaller groups where people can feel safe to ask what is next and how can we put this important agenda back on the table. Lets get MPs engaged in those conversations so they become aware of the issues, fears and concerns and how they can get all members of the community to vote, but not by being divisive and using race as a tool to win elections and divide the nation even more. Something we are starting to see as an election strategy.
It’s in all our interests to be ‘At Ease With Each Other’ and as with any negative feelings and doubts we have with people in life, you need to clear the air to become friends. Only then can we all celebrate the things we all have in common rather than blaming everyone else for the uncomfortable things we don't like and are too scared to say.
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