David Goodhart, the director of the Labourish think tank Demos, has a new book out on the immigration question, The British Dream. It’s caused something of a stir, as these things tend to do.
It draws on many examples from Tower Hamlets and, by way of disclosure, I helped with some of his research. Michael Keith told me he offered some of (largely critical) thoughts as well. And Cllr Abdal Ullah’s wife, the lawyer Ayesha Qureshi MBE, is also mentioned in the text.
In fact, both Abdal and Ayesha were at the launch of the book in central London last Monday night, as was Dr Abdul Bari, the chairman of the East London Mosque, who was another helpful interviewee.
The launch was chaired by Trevor Phillips, who in 2004, suggested David Goodhart was a racist for airing some of his thoughts then. Nine years later, Phillips has retracted those words, so much so that he has offered this quote at the top of the front cover of David’s book: “No intelligent person can afford not to read this book.”
Sitting alongside David and Trevor at the launch were Jasvinder Sanghera, of the Karma Nirvana forced marriage support group, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, and Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of Newham.
While Clarke bellowed criticisms of the book, seeing it as an attack on New Labour’s record in this field, Wales was more supportive: he agreed with parts, and opposed others. But at the outset of Robin’s speech he turned to David and said: “They won’t stop calling you a racist.”
The rest of his speech was fascinating and I don’t think it would be unfair to say it was also somewhat of a manifesto for what he admits is his next ambition – to be Mayor of London.
I’ll write up more of his words when I have a bit more time to decipher some of the overlapping clauses and sentences that characterise his fast-thinking speeches: he’s quite passionate is Sir Robin.
And passionately opposed to what he sees happening in Tower Hamlets. He said it’s “appalling” what politicians are doing to Bengali kids here: he says they’re being encouraged to be separate and to think in terms of segregation and race.
So, I thought I’d write up a piece for the Sunday Express today: it’s mainly about policies but touches on Tower Hamlets for contrast. Two boroughs side by side, but in many ways, worlds apart.
The version that has appeared in print is here, but a slightly longer version (including far more quotes about Tower Hamlets) is copied below. A mayor of one borough criticising his neighbour so heavily is strong stuff.
Home Affairs Editor
AT A gathering of the great and the good to launch his controversial new book on immigration last Monday night, the thinker and writer David Goodhart was asked by a panel that included former Home Secretary Charles Clarke and race relations king Trevor Phillips how he would tackle Britain’s “multiculturalism” problem.
Without any hesitation, he replied: “Make Sir Robin Wales the mayor of every city in Britain.”
A few minutes earlier, Sir Robin, the directly elected Labour mayor of Newham in east London, had won applause after detailing his bold approach to managing the effects of immigration in his own backyard.
In an attempt to create a shared British identity among the many ethnic groups in his Olympic host borough, Sir Robin, a Scot who wants to be the next mayor of London, listed a series of measures aimed at encouraging integration and rooting out the rogue elements that exploit and attract cheap foreign labour.
*foreign language newspapers have been banned from public libraries
*free translation services have been all but eliminated from council services
*learning English is being actively encouraged
*British history is being promoted
*priority on housing lists is being given to those in work over those on benefits
*employers dodging the minimum wage are being pursued
*funding for single-ethnic and single-religious groups is being refused
*private landlords are now required to be licensed
*and local people are being prioritised for local jobs.
For Mr Goodhart, the director of the left-leaning think tank Demos who has been branded a racist for daring to doubt the wisdom of mass migration in his book The British Dream, the speech was a brave and refreshing blueprint for London and beyond.
For Sir Robin, who has ruled Newham since 1995—at the last election in 2010, his party won all 60 council seats–the policies are the results of years of research that is now being fed into Labour’s policy machine.
He believes immigration is good for the country, but unless it is managed well, the impact on local communities can be negative.
The subject needs “detoxifying”, he says, and that requires analysing the complex factors at each local level.
He attacks the “extreme left” for playing the race card whenever the issue is discussed and cites the neighbouring borough of Tower Hamlets, which is frequently highlighted as the basket case of segregated societies, as a case in point. There, where Bangladeshis are the largest population group with 32 per cent of residents, and where Mayor Lutfur Rahman and his ruling cabinet all hail from that community, public money is even being used to teach Bengali “mother tongue” classes instead of English.
It is also where some councillors have poor English, where Bengali is sometimes spoken in the council chamber, where debates frequently descend into false accusations of racism, and where town hall grants are doled out to community groups that cater for just one section of the population.
“It’s appalling what’s happening there,” Sir Robin, 58, said. “They’re trying to create a society that really doesn’t exist.
“We know people from other communities struggle to get jobs but if we encourage them to be segregated and separate, it will be even harder for them to have lives that are fulfilling.
“They are doing damage to young people. I think it’s unfair – they’re not giving the kids in the Bengali community the chance, and that’s not right.
“The kids should be getting experience outside of the experiences their parents have. They are fundamentally wrong.”
Although Tower Hamlets council refutes such suggestions and claims to promote “community cohesion”, it is those observations that have helped shape a different outlook in Newham where the population of 307,000 is even more diverse: white British is the largest group by ethnicity, but at just 16.7 per cent of residents.
Sir Robin, who earns £80,000 a year, says people want the same things, regardless of race or background: clean streets, good education and a safe place to live.
Delivering those to everyone fosters solidarity and integration, he argues.
His buzzword is “resilience”, management-speak for helping people to look after themselves instead of relying on the state.
In Newham, that means applying a few sticks, as well as dangling carrots.
Since 2010, the council has slashed translation service costs by 72 per cent, spending just £17,000 last year.
Only vital services, such as tackling child abuse, now supply free interpreters.
Sir Robin, whose own mother was German, said: “If someone comes to my surgery who can’t speak English, they have to bring their own translator. We won’t fund that.
“We’re very clear about English being important, not just for jobs but so they can take part in our society and community.”
Similarly, he refuses to fund single-ethnic or single-religious groups.
During the Olympics, the council helped to organise more than 1,000 community events, which he said created a shared sense of belonging.
However, one group asked him to subsidise a Bangladeshi-themed street party. “Fantastic,” he told them, but when they said it would only be for Bangladeshis, he replied, “No thank you, you can do it by yourself, but we won’t be contributing.”
One of his next targets is to build a large “language lab” in East Ham where as many people as possible will be able to learn English, and which will also be fitted out with British history books.
“It’s about cultural references,” he said. “Every time I go abroad, I buy a book on the history of the place, so I understand a wee bit more about the people, and that’s’ what I want to encourage.
“We will support integration. If there are people who are not working but who want to learn English then that’s a good thing—we’ll support that because it will connect them to our society.”
He says his policies are working.
In January, Newham became the first authority in the country to require private landlords to hold a licence, a measure geared at clamping down on squalid, overcrowded homes that are often filled with illegal immigrants.
A staggering 38 people, 16 of them children, were found living in one property alone.
His officers are also pioneering raids on rogue businesses that act as a magnet for cheap foreign workers by paying less than the minimum wage.
“Newham jobs for Newham people,” is the mayor’s mantra.
“It’s about fairness, a value that cuts across the immigration issue. It’s about managing that issue, and you often don’t understand the issue until you get down to the local area.”
While that may be good advice to fellow council leaders, he also has a warning for the Government.
Because he believes so strongly that learning English is a major key to successful cohesion, he is astonished by Coalition cuts to funding for ESOL classes (English for Speakers of Other Languages).
“The attack on that funding is a disgrace,” he said.
It is a view shared by his new fan, Mr Goodhart, who also urges ministers to continue ploughing money into the language in primary schools.
As the Sunday Express revealed last week, £270million was spent in 2012 teaching English to the 577,000 primary pupils whose parents speak other languages at home.
While some may baulk at that figure, Mr Goodhart describes it as a “fantastic investment”.
The social and economic costs of not teaching them might well be far higher.
* Disclosure: Ted Jeory was a contributor to The British Dream.