Integration or segregation – are we all tribal at heart?

Former Archbishop George Carey

Former Archbishop
George Carey

It is a brave public figure who debates ethnicity, integration and tribalism so I was pleasantly dumbfounded when I heard former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, recently say “Some will not like me saying this but, in recent years, there has been too much Muslim mass immigration to Europe. This has resulted in ghettos of Muslim communities living parallel lives to mainstream society, following their own customs and even their own laws.”  He went on to say “Isn’t it high-time instead for the oil-rich Gulf States to open their doors to the many Muslims who are fleeing conflict? Surely if they are concerned for fellow Muslims who prefer to live in Muslim-majority countries, then they have a moral responsibility to intervene?”

There are many levels at which the issue of integration versus segregation can be argued.

When planning permission is sought for a local housing estate, developers are required to provide for a minimum quantum of “affordable housing”.  What this means is generally taken to be provision of houses to let that are owned by a housing association where the rent is subsidised and tenancies are offered on a measure of need. Now the reality of this “affordable housing” is that someone is subsidising the capital cost of building it and that can only be the seller of the land or the developer of the site or the buyers of the remaining market housing.  I rather suspect a good chunk of the hidden subsidy is borne by those people who can afford to buy a brand new home.  During the consultation stage for this housing, in addition to the inevitable opposition to any housing from a swathe of the population, there will be a demand from well meaning individuals for the affordable housing to be integrated or “pepper potted”, as opposed to being “ghettoised” in a distant and murky corner of the estate.  While this is a wholly commendable attitude, I think we need to question its practicability and desirability.  At heart, many human beings are deeply tribal.  Look at any football game; sit in a pub and listen to the conversation about sport; engage in conversation with a stranger and one will be asked “who do you support?”  Look at youngsters who have been conned into buying perfectly good jeans with holes scored out of the knees and you will realise the deeply tribal instincts that many possess.  So, returning to the issue of affordable housing, anyone who insists on integrating low cost housing in an estate needs to answer a simple question.  Imagine you have just paid half a million pounds for a smallish four-bedroom house on a new estate with limited living accommodation, inadequate storage and a single small garage that will not take your 4X4 or your wife’s 4X4 or even your eldest child’s 4X4.  Shortly after moving in, the house next to you which is in the ownership of a housing association shows signs of occupation.  First to arrive is a heavily tattooed woman with several extremely noisy children and a collection of barking dogs.  They are followed by a series of extremely muscled men of varying nationalities who appear to be fathers to the assortment of children that appear and disappear regularly. The men bring clapped-out old cars which are dumped on the tiny piece of grass in front of your neighbour’s house, partially dismantled and then left.  Do you welcome the result of affordable housing based on assessed need or do you worry about your living environment and the ongoing value of your home?  Do you still support “pepper-potting”?   Now 75% of social tenants are not as I have described and are decent and honourable people who deserve a proper home but 25% are just as I have described.  Are they better off dotted around an estate or grouped with people of their own style?  Of course, the answer is “neither”.  They are better off if they learn to adopt more acceptable life styles but institutions like housing associations are too often incapable of enforcing acceptable norms and the result is years of misery for others.

The same questions arise with schooling.  Many parents are desperate for their children to do well at school and to have a successful and rewarding career.  To achieve this, they will want their children to attend a school with high educational standards and an ethos that encourages learning and good social values.  A lucky few will pay for this privilege by sending their children to a private school and paying twice over through their taxes and through school fees.  They will want their children to speak well, to acquire confidence and good social skills and good moral standards.  They may have strong religious or ethical views which they wish to see passed on to their children.  There are people who would seek to prevent parents from choosing this course for their children on the grounds of “equality” but I would say this was equalising downwards and producing an unacceptable lowest common denominator of learning or the lack of it.  In our tribal society, there are, very sadly, people who do not value education, probably having had a bad experience themselves and who lead their children to scorn learning and good social standards.  If there are just a few of these children in a class, the impact on those who need and want to learn can be catastrophic.  Michael Gove’s school reforms and the growing number of academies and free schools are going some way towards creating more of an education market where competition will inevitably drive up standards but, oh dear, it is a slow process and the teacher unions (Gove’s “Blob”) do all they can to sabotage these reforms.

So we come to the big one and return to George Carey’s argument where I started.  We are all tribal and tend to want to be with our own kind. Manual workers with manual workers; skilled craftsmen with others; professionals with professionals; Arsenal supporters with other football lovers and so on.  Of course it is not altogether healthy and mixing with others of widely different outlooks and views is conducive to a healthy society but there must be limits and bounds.  I think that unlikely combination of George Carey and David Cameron have shown us where they can be set.

Prime Minister

Prime Minister

At the Conservative Party Conference on Thursday, David Cameron said: “Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with children learning about their faith, whether it’s at madrassas, Sunday schools or Jewish yeshivas but, in some madrassas, we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people.  These children should be having their minds opened, their horizons broadened, not having their heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate.”  He went on to say: “If an institution is teaching children intensively then, whatever it’s religion, we will, like any other school, make it register so it can be inspected and be in no doubt, if you’re teaching intolerance, we will shut you down”.  Of course, the devil will be in the detail and in translating a sensible policy into practice without being snared on the hooks of political correctness or sabotaged by liberal judges with little understanding of the real world in which most of us live.

While America was for a long time the land of the free, accepting all within its shores, it has learned the lessons of practicality and is now very careful about extending its citizenship.  Angela Merkel is in trouble for allowing her heart to rule her head and, perhaps, for believing an ageing population needed revitalising with unlimited inward migration despite the obvious dangers.  She is going to have to back-track and the EU’s obsession with free movement of labour looks doomed.

Thanks goodness we have a Conservative majority government that is concerned with the security of our nation and the well-being of all of its citizens.  It is only too clear what Jeremy Corby would seek to impose on the hard-working majority if he had the chance and I am afraid the same goes for the left-leaning Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland.

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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