Prime Minister David Cameron, freshly re-elected in May 2015 with an overall majority, took to Radio 4 shortly afterwards and declared an aim he will have to reverse and redefine.
The PM told listeners on his accession only four months ago, that: ‘For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’.
‘It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.’
As he delivered it, this sounded like a commitment to state intervention in the lives of citizens – at will and without due cause- which would be madness.
As has been to his and the country’s detriment before and since, this was another instance where Mr Cameron spoke in public on a half fledged notion – and left it and himself open to ridicule.
Looking at what he actually said and applying the Cameron-crash filter to it, it is possible to decode what he may have meant to say: that Britain has been a laissez faire host to immigrants, allowing the development of effective enclaves, within which cultures which are not British become embedded, hold sway, develop, become powerful and exist, unintegrated, within parallel universes.
If the PM meant that what – by lazy complacency more than liberalism – this has brought about has been destructive and dangerous, that is a wholly defensible proposition.
But if he intends to reverse by state intervention the situation he describes, where: ‘…we have stood neutral between different values’, he faces some major jumps ahead.
There are two very different constituencies to approach in such an effort:
- new immigrants yet to arrive;
- established British communities of immigrant origin and with established dominant cultures which are non-British.
The second of these constituencies – rooted, defined, effectively self-controlled – would be almost possible to invite into a new cultural relationship.
That would take a timeline our party political culture of crashing from one government to the next – with no settled overarching strategic policies – is not calibrated to deliver.
It would also take a government and a Prime Minister of very different character to have the sensitivity and openness to approach such an effort with any chance of success.
The first of these two constituencies would be relatively straightforward to treat newly – by making it a condition of entry to accept and live by a set of social and cultural values specific to Britain – if these were to be definable. To be fair the most robust cultures may be those that just ‘are’ and are not self-conscious or restricted by definition.
But the established residents of Britain, historic and naturalised, would also need to observe these same social and cultural values – which, for many, might be an equal systemic shock in the first instance at least.
If this were not required, we would end up with our current decultured ‘native’ British population, living cheek by jowl with populations of immigrant origin living the life of an imaginary and historicised British culture. This would be fully bizarre.
But if we were to have a shared culture which would see current and future residents integrated by common adherence to it, we could not create this situation without the Constitution we complacent British and all varieties of our politicians – are reluctant to establish. It is not easy to defend an attitude which says: ‘If the Magna Carta ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
And then there is the truth that British emigrants, in the majority, show little respect for the cultures in which they relocate, forming cultural enclaves in which they perpetuate the culture with which they are no longer in direct contact. Think of the Dordogne, Malaga, the Costa del Sol, Tuscany and the Emirates.
How can we defend asking immigrants arriving here to respect and observe our culture when it does not occur to so many of us to do this when we emigrate – equally for social and economic reasons.
There is the germ of something important and constructive in what the Prime Minister may have meant in his ramble on Radi0 4 upon his election in May – but the probability is that not he, nor his government, nor our political culture are equipped to carry this notion through without doing more harm than good.
This was a formal public declaration of intent by the Prime Minister, at the very start of his current term of office, leading a majority government.
Does it remain his intention? The country needs to know and never more so than at this moment.