On Monday 12 May, Quilliam held an event that focused on the topic of immigration in the lead up to the European Parliamentary elections. The discussion was led by David Goodhart, chair of the advisory group for the cross-party think tank Demos and author of the recently published book The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration. On the panel alongside Mr. Goodhart was Ed West – journalist and author of The Diversity Illusion – and Sunder Katwala – political activist and director of the identity- and integration-focused think-tank, British Future. The event was chaired by Quilliam’s managing director, Ghaffar Hussain.
A range of topics associated with UK immigration were covered over the course of the evening, with a focus on those issues facing the British Muslim population, a group referred to by Goodhart as Britain’s ‘most awkward’ minority.
The proceedings kicked off with Goodhart’s introducing post-war immigration through the lenses of the economy, cultural segregation and social cohesion, noting that currently, discussions of ethnic minorities are something of a taboo among the so-called “liberal tribe”:
“We should be able to talk about ethnic minorities in the same way we talk about social class” – DG
He urged that people should be more forthcoming when it comes to this discussion in the UK, especially when it came to addressing issues facing the Muslim population. He noted in particular that, due to historic mistakes made with post-war (and post-imperial) immigration policy, we now lack the mechanisms that best facilitate an immigrant population’s integration within liberal society:
“There is a greater ambivalence about liberalism among Muslims more than any other minority in Britain” – DG
The above assertion was something that Katwala challenged, citing his belief that there was more common ground between seemingly disparate communities across the country than first meets the eye. It is this that needs to be taken advantage of:
“We should do integration in spaces that are resonant to everybody” – SK
While Katwala’s arguments focussed predominantly on the positive outcomes of immigration into the UK, Ed West had a different interpretation of the matter, calling for an “immigration pause” rather than the continuation of what he perceived to be relative free-flow of immigration. This would, in turn, ease migrant integration into British society, thus ensuring one of West’s chief concerns, that Britain:
“…must not lose [its] liberal institutions and traditions but cherish them instead” – EW
The discussion then turned to the term ‘Islamophobia’, and its possible misuse. This seemed to be an issue about which all panellists could agree on.
Upon reflection, then, it seems that the discussion on immigration is not a single question, rather, it is a myriad of angles and opinions. There is unlikely to ever be consensus on the issue. What did become apparent over the course of the evening was that, while we – as a society – continue to struggle to define the criteria for measuring ‘successful immigration’, it is immigration that has made Britain what it is today.