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The University of Southampton
Centre for English Identity and Politics

Trevor Phillips

An English Future: E Pluribus Unum or Ex Una Multa?”

18th October 2016

Winchester University

Trevor Phillips, Former Chair, EHRC


This is an uncorrected transcript of talks given at the seminar held at the University of Winchester on 18 October 2016. Please do not quote without seeking permission from the speaker.


Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for your invitation to speak to you this evening. It is an immense privilege to be asked to kick off this series of lectures. In fact, as frequently happens to me on occasions like this, I wonder if someone’s made a terrible error in inviting me to undertake the task.


So John, I’m grateful for your kind introduction. You and I have been colleagues and friends in public life for some four decades. It’s a relief to know that for once there’s at least one person in the room who is not right now nudging his neighbour and saying “Are you sure we’re in the right place? OK, so he’s got the big glasses and the greying hair, but this bloke doesn’t sound anything like the fellow who used to read the “News at Ten”.


Or as someone said when I was filming at an anti-immigrant march two weeks ago – “aren’t you Trevor Nelson?” Bizarrely, I was still being asked in London’s Oxford Street last July whether I was Howard from the Halifax ads – and they dropped the poor bloke nine years ago.


All the same, one of the unexpected bonuses of being a public figure, even if no-one’s sure which one you are, is being able to return to university towns I may once have visited years ago, and to campuses I may have occupied in those distant days of big flares and big hair. In my day, what is now one of the UK’s most notable new universities was still King Alfred’s College.


Much has changed, but I noticed that some priorities remain the same. At the foot of the announcement for this event I noted the all-important words guaranteed to boost turn out: a cash bar is will be open before and after the event.


Of course, today’s students are probably a little more disciplined than in John’s and my day. My own alma mater, Imperial College, required the Student Union President to show up to every departmental dinner and to down a yard of ale – three pints - in the Union bar, in one continuous swallow – and still be able to walk round the quad unaided.


I doubt if anyone in most political parties would regard the ability to sink three pints in less than a minute as an important qualification for the start of a life in politics today – but I suspect there is at least one political party where it increasingly looks as though this might be the best and only way of deciding who should be the leader.


I don’t intend to say anything disobliging about UKIP tonight, but there are some of my friends who I think still believe that Mr Nigel Farage, who could no doubt manage a yard in his sleep managed to achieve his historic referendum victory in June by putting the British electorate under the influence for a day.


Clever people are still arguing, in disbelief, about what took place on June 23rd. And many, who like me, were Remainers, simply refuse to accept that 52% of the British people made this particular choice whilst in full possession of their faculties.


Of course, when Parliament decided to set the referendum process in motion, few people imagined that this would be the result. But Mr Cameron and our lawmakers are far from the only people to have misjudged the temper of their voters in recent times.


The Hungarian leader Viktor Orban assumed that he would win a resounding mandate against proposals by what he calls the liberal elite in Brussels to allocate groups of refugees to EU members. He won his referendum – but did not manage to enthuse enough of his citizens to vote to get past the threshold he himself had set for the vote to be mandatory.


Similarly, the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, after four years of negotiation with Farc guerrillas, unveiled a peace deal to the accompaniment of a choir singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. After half a century of vicious, debilitating war, how could anyone possibly vote against peace in the subsequent referendum? Well, actually, they did, rejecting the deal by just 0.4% points – 50.25 to 49.8%.


Today, every sensible person says confidently. A Trump win? Couldn’t happen. They wouldn’t be that mad. That’s what I think too.

But these are strange times. I have just come back today, from Berlin, which a few weeks ago delivered a seismic shock to German politics. For most of our lifetimes Berlin, which is a state in its own right, has elected centre-left SPD leaders, recently in coalition with Mrs Merkel’s CDU.


Last month, a stridently anti-Muslim political party, the Alternatif fur Deutschland contested these elections.  Few thought that they would make an impact in such a left leaning city. In the words of the City’s Mayor Michael Müller, a vote for the AfD “would be seen around the world as a return of the far-Right and the Nazis to Germany.”


In the event, Berliners delivered 14% of their votes to the AfD – not as many as they’d hoped for, but more than enough to give them – for the first time – seats in a state Parliament. The SPD, though still the most popular party fell 5% to 23% of the vote; and in a disastrous reversal for Mrs Merkel, the CDU dropped to 18% and has been forced out of the governing coalition in the capital city.


The problem with democracy is that what may seem obvious to the folks in charge may not be so clear to the people who do the voting. Those who have called these referendums are a bit like the US civil war general who glancing up at the enemy lines, scoffed: “They couldn’t hit an elephant from that distance . . .” They were his last words. An enemy sniper hadn’t got the memo that it wasn’t possible and blew the man’s brains out. Of course, the immediate reaction to this kind of shock is outright denial.


Churchill once said that the best argument against democracy was a five-minute conversation with the average voter. It is now a message being repeated in various forms by people bewildered by the outcome of the referendum. Churchill however, made his remark out of affection for and exasperation with the British public. Increasingly, our political classes are turning on the electorate with fury and bitterness.



An ocean of ink has already been expended to promote the same message: we could only have voted for Brexit either because we just didn’t know what we were doing and bought obvious lies - or that we were so bigoted that we would let nothing stand in the way of expressing our hatred of foreigners.


In short, we were either fools or knaves.


Well, I don’t agree. I think the British people are neither racists nor dupes; and that those of us who lost need to get over ourselves and try to understand what the people told us.


Brexit obviously means Brexit; but I think that, irrespective of the speed and texture – hard or soft – of our exit, the British people were sending us a far more profound message.


I think they were telling us that we had missed a step in our understanding of what matters to people in a modern developed society. For most of my lifetime it’s been economics. We all know the phrase, supposedly coined by Harold Wilson – “the pound in your pocket”. It was updated by Bill Clinton’s campaign chief James Carville as “it’s the economy, stupid”. Most governments have followed this dictum pretty slavishly, and it’s proved successful.


But globalisation has taken us into a new era. The Remain side fought a campaign resolutely focused on the economic prospects of our decision. But I believe that the real message of Brexit was that for the British people there are things that matter more than money.


You may belong to the class of person who is so well off that an extra 50 quid a month on the grocery bill doesn’t matter too much; you may have voted the way you did because you want Britain to be outward facing, liberal minded and internationalist, and regarded the prospect of leaving the EU as a surrender to Little Englanders.


Or you may be the left behind person who can see the fruits of globalisation but knows that they are always likely to be plucked by someone better qualified or better placed than you are. You voted the way you did because you felt that nothing could make things worse; and that at least outside the EU you might regain some control over things that matter to you.

Either way, for very many Britons, probably the overwhelming majority, this was a vote in which fear of cultural change far outweighed the risks to prosperity. In short, in today’s politics, culture trumps economics.


The challenge of globalisation can, according to the former Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, now Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, be summed up in three words – what he calls the three I’s:



Identity; and



Today, perhaps Carville’s dictum about what matters in politics might be better stated as “It’s Identity, dimwit”.


Identity and Globalisation


I am of course especially sensitive to issues of identity. Some of the reasons are obvious and some are not so obvious. Let me dwell for a moment on some of the less obvious.


I was born in London, the tenth of ten children, living in a Rachman slum. But circumstances were such that my parents thought it better to send me back as an infant to Guyana, the country that they still called "home". The maths of ten children into two rooms doesn’t really work out too well.


In those days, the capital of Guyana, Georgetown, was a small garden city, with its back to the Atlantic, and its face to the cane fields, riverscape and virgin rain forest that led Walter Raleigh to christen it Eldorado.


Its people were as diverse as you could imagine - Europeans, Asians, Arabs, Africans, Native Americans - the only people I'd never met as a teenager were Australian Aborigines. That’s because the British Empire functioned as vast labour market machine, moving skills as necessary from here to there – Indian farmers over here to grow rice, Chinese shopkeepers over there to provide food and supplies, for example.

My old class lists in Guyana show names like Ali, Ishmael, Persaud, Chan, Ming, Ten Pow and Singh as well as the conventional European names given to the descendants of slaves - Adams, Harris, Alleyne, Moore - and Phillips.


But as in so much of the Commonwealth, behind the racial and religious rainbow there lay a bitter and often violent history of ethnic feuding which still disfigures that small country.


One of my own classmates and friends, Donald Rodney, in later years saw his brother, the writer and academic Walter Rodney murdered, and was himself injured, by a car bomb, largely for espousing the cause of non-racial politics.


So, I have lived with the possibilities of great diversity - and the ghastly consequences of the absence of toleration.


I understand all too vividly what the reality of “Ex Uno Multa” can mean. It is more than just a phrase.


The question of identity presents a profound problem for virtually every society in the world today: the problem of what Sir Isaiah Berlin called living together graciously.


The best modern word for Berlin’s idea – tolerance – has sadly come to imply a grudging coexistence between people who barely know each other and who, frankly, like it that way.


But the original Elizabethan idea of toleration was a more active proposition - a dynamic convergence of cultures and traditions to create a new kind of Englishness.


I do, of course, know about Sir Francis Walsingham's use of torture against Catholics, and the cruelty of the police state - but even so I do think that we could well follow this idea of toleration, without the thumbscrews, of course.


I want to argue tonight that finding a modern version of toleration for the second Elizabethan age is more important than it ever has been; and despite the fact that we here in the UK do this better than almost anyone else in the world, there is still much to work out, and much to do, before we can feel content that we have it licked.

The response of British society now to the social consequences of globalisation is as critical to our future prosperity as was our reaction to the decline of empire.


And part of our unique challenge lies in our imperial history.


Globalisation means that we are increasingly colliding with our own past, as those we previously colonized turn up here in these islands. This means that our approach to a multi-ethnic future won’t be the same as those of newer nations.


The famous Caribbean folk poet Louise Bennett predicted as much in the 1950s when she wrote her satire "Colonization in reverse" which starts (with apologies to anyone who actually can speak Jamaican patois)


"What a joyful news Miss Mattie

Ah feel like me heart gwine burs -

Jamaica people colonizin

Englan in reverse


By de hundred, by de tousan

from country an from town

By de shipload, by de plane load

Jamaica is Englan bound"


And she then put the key question in her own very special way:

"What a devilment a Englan!

Dem face war an brave de worse;

But ah wonderin how dem gwine stan

Colonizin in reverse"


We are, as I say, colliding with our own past - but this time we are not the masters. We are, like all others in the West, having to negotiate our way through the management of migration essential to our economic prosperity. It won’t be a simple process.

There are 220 million people who work outside their country sending home some $400 billion each year - more than the entire flow of official aid across the world. 60 percent come to more prosperous, western countries. We need them. They need us.


So, when Bill Clinton famously said that globalisation is not a policy - it's a fact – he added that the only issue for progressives is how we respond to it.


Over the next two generations the challenge of integrating new and settled communities, as they live together both in the short and long term, will grow as globalisation picks up speed.


Inequality and Diversity


Let me return to the three I’s. Together they present a tricky puzzle, because if we solve one of them, that won’t resolve the other two – and in fact, addressing one of them may worsen another. Let’s take inequality and integration.


I don’t intend to spend any time this evening talking about what we normally call inequality – the gap between groups we identify as wealthy and poor. Much has been said and written about growing inequality in our society. Some makes sense to me, much does not.


But for children today the defining political struggles – the Second World War, Civil Rights, the defeat of apartheid - are all about equality before the law, eliminating unjust discrimination and the liberation of the oppressed.


Even if we don’t know where the words come from, this declaration resonates across the globe:


…..that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…..


The fact that these words were written by a slave-owner, Thomas Jefferson, for the benefit, largely, of other slave-owners has never diminished their power.

But in modern, diverse societies, the pre-eminence of Jefferson’s equality dictum is being challenged by the task of fostering integration.

Here are the words of a modern-day prophet:


“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear.”


That’s the case for diversity; and it implies that we should celebrate our differences even if they leave us unequal in some way. I am quoting here Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek. Before you dismiss his wisdom, let me remind you that he said this back in the 1960s.


This was the man who put the first interracial kiss – Kirk and Uhuru – on TV, who pioneered characters whose sexuality was indeterminate, and whose entire work championed a world in which very different peoples could find a way of living together without tyranny. But his insight was that equality and diversity are not exactly the same thing, and not always easy bedfellows.


I think that Rodenberry, like many of his generation, hoped that with the advance of equality the social divisions based on race, religion, tribe, regional cultures, even gender perhaps, would simply wither away.


It hasn’t worked. Differences are growing.


Globally ethnic and religious conflicts are more frequent and more damaging. And we here in Britain are facing into headwinds that are leading to greater and greater fragmentation of our society, often without our realising it.


So much of what I do want to dwell on tonight emphasizes this point: in the UK, we tend to think of issues of identity and integration as purely cultural and social questions, separate and to some extent subordinate to economic inequality.


In my view this is no longer a tenable viewpoint.  Social Divisions Are Growing. Though many of us don’t want to admit it, a racial fault line runs right through our society.


The Mapping Integration Project at Policy Exchange has shown that not only does black/white residential segregation exist in the UK, it is actually increasing.


The Social Integration Commission, backed by research at Oxford, found that even in cosmopolitan London, where we have the widest range of social groupings, most of us tend not to mix socially with people of other ethnicities.


Professor Eric Kaufman of Birkbeck, University of London, has shown that between the 2001 and 2011 censuses some 600,000 white individuals had moved out of the capital – mostly for perfectly understandable, non-racial reasons – but the net effect has been to increase white/non-white separation.


Not only are our life chances increasingly dependent on who and what we are born, rather than just our parents’ occupations, it is evident that for many of us, irrespective of our wealth, the factors that most deny us our full potential may have nothing at all to do with our economic standing.


We may be more or less deprived of opportunity because of our personal characteristics – a disability, our gender, our sexual orientation., or our race and religion.


For example, when I became Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, it took me just a few months to grasp that the people who felt most cheated in life because of their ethnicity were not young black men stopped and searched by the police, or Asian shopkeepers forced to blockade their stores against vandalism.


No, the people in whom the fires of injustice burned most fiercely were the people who felt they had done everything demanded of them by white society, but who were still not accorded the level of respect that they would have been had they been white.


I am talking about longstanding junior doctors who somehow never made it to consultant.


Veteran teachers who never won the prize of department head. Skilled legal advocates who year after year found their application to take silk turned down.


And dare I say it in these quarters, senior lecturers who never become professors – I believe that it is still possible to count the number of British born minority professors in British universities in on your fingers and toes.


And behind all this, the statistics of disadvantage mount up.


Year by year we see people trapped by disadvantages which have nothing to do with how much their parents earn, or how many assets they own.


Today I can tell you with statistical certainty that an African-Caribbean boy has twice as much chance of seeing the inside of a jail as he has of taking a university degree at a top university.


I can tell you that a Muslim man or woman who goes for a job is a third as likely as a non-Muslim to get it.


And I can tell you that a Gypsy or Traveller child has about a one in four chance of passing five good GCSEs, and virtually none of getting three A-levels.


And even when we think of the so-called white working class, when we examine the failure of this group in detail, we learn several important things.


First the white failures are not in any proper sense, working class; they tend to come from backgrounds and areas where fewer and fewer people do actually work, because the jobs have gone – seaside towns where tourism has collapsed for example.


Their problem is more than anything that the sheer habit of work has disappeared. No-one values it or the identity that comes with being successfully employed any more.


Second, these are areas where no new industries have arrived or are likely to arrive. Where there is work it is too low paid or too unpleasant to attract local people. And even where pay is not the issue, we increasingly see that employers prefer foreign workers for what they would politely call productivity reasons, meaning they can get more for less.


Third, we tend to dismiss some of the left-behind whites as nativist bigots. But all the evidence suggests that the realisation that they and their children can find no reflection of themselves in the story that our society tells itself about the future comes before any resentment towards foreigners.


In short, they divide the world into us and them only after they notice that all too many of the unfortunate us’s are the same colour - white. The point is that the political and social impact is undoubtedly promoting an ethnic and cultural divide.


So whilst I recognise the importance of economic inequality, I think that every piece of evidence increasingly reveals that whilst there is a real relationship between all three of the I’s, income or wealth inequality is not necessarily the thing that matters most for most people.


But there’s another, even more important reason why the bundle of issues that we put together under the heading identity and integration may now matter more than our concern about inequality. Our failures are undermining democracy itself.


Silence Threatens Democracy


In modern societies, the manner in which governments react to identity issues have become the touchstone for the extent to which they can be trusted – not just on this one issue but on all questions.


We know for example that the scandals unearthed by the Times newspaper in Rotherham and Rochdale would by themselves have been bad enough.


But in many of those towns the revelation that the grooming and sexual abuse of white children was carried out by gangs of mostly Pakistani-heritage men gave the story a twist that turned it from a story of sordid exploitation to one of official cowardice and betrayal.


One in which it appeared that the authorities would rather let perpetrators go unpunished rather than risk offending a minority community’s leaders.


In Germany something similar took place when weeks after the event it was finally admitted by police and politicians in Cologne that New Year’s Eve celebrations had been marred by assaults mostly committed by North African migrants.


The offences would have been outrageous – but the silence of the authorities made this a tale to gladden the heart of every right wing extremist, who could now boast with some justification that only they had been prepared to speak the truth.


The silence on these issues has infected politics throughout the western world and opened the door to divisive, often racist forces; and it has weakened the appeal of conventional politics, increasingly condemned for being shallow, hypocritical and in denial about the effects of diversity.


In what other circumstances could we seriously have imagined the emergence of figures like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Viktor Orban, the Five Star movement – people who refuse to engage with the world as it is, who stridently urge us to turn our backs on progress and who essentially are shouting “stop the world” I want to get off.


Identity and the British


Dealing with identity questions that arise from immigration inevitably makes politicians – indeed most public figures - uncomfortable.


There’s a reason for this. If you are asking people to join a society and accept its values, you have to tell them what those values are. And you also have to identify what values are not native – and possibly what sort of behaviours are alien.  


In Germany if you ask a room full of politicians, journalists and academics the question “what constitutes German identity” you are guaranteed one of two things will happen.


One response is silence. No-one wants to go there because everybody remembers the last time someone answered that question. The other response is that if anyone does answer they will give you an answer that is constitutional, that largely tells you about your protections in law.

The problem is that a bundle of legalese does not help you decide what sort of person you might be if you are to be recognised as German by your friends and neighbours.


The French go even further on this formal constitutional road. Being French largely consists of being the possessor of certain rights and responsibilities. Other than those laid down in the Constitution, as a human being you do not exist. Which is why we get to the extraordinary humiliating spectacle of a woman being forced to strip on a French beach so that she can match up to some bizarre standard of how a French woman should dress.


In the USA, the opposite is true. The conception of being American is so weak, that you may hyphenate your identity – all my hundreds of American relatives tend to refer to themselves as Caribbean Americans; which means that as long as they salute the flag they belong – but they need have little or nothing in common with their fellow Americans.


Indeed, I can visit any of them and spend weeks in the company of people of my own colour and background, without needing to do more than nod pleasantly at anyone in the street or a shop who is not Caribbean American.


Here in Britain we have what might be called the Cheshire Cat strategy. Keep smiling, pretend there’s nothing to see, and it will eventually go away. In essence, we work really hard to pretend that all differences are invisible – and if they are so egregious that we can’t ignore them, we tell each other that they really don’t matter because they’ll fade with time.


I have my own personal test as to how far we’ve come as a diverse society. I call it the invisibility test.


When I was a child it was common for people who were not white and male to be next to invisible.


Disabled kids would be carted away to special schools. Boys played football over here, and girls skipped rope over there. Nobody talked about homosexuality.


My father and I used to listen to Round The Horne every week on what was then the Home Service, and I swear that to his dying day he would have been utterly baffled if you’d told him that Julian and Sandy, the resident camp couple were anything other than a pair of posh white boys.


The racial version of invisibility was that we all looked alike. And there’s a reason why we never figured as real people in white folk’s heads. Our friends’ parents were reluctant to let us in their houses. My sister discovered that she hadn’t been invited to the seventeenth birthday party of the girl she thought was her best friend. In truth, we hardly knew each other.


But in reality, we are still a society that cheerfully tells the world that we are happily integrated whilst behaving in exactly the opposite way.  Let me give an example.


A couple of years ago, friends took me and my wife to a Bruce Springsteen concert at Wembley. He was amazing, but he does go on a bit. So, we all amused ourselves in the traditional way – counting the number of black people we could see in the stadium. None of us got past ten.


Yet the following morning, I could have gone over to my church and worshipped with a congregation of 300 or so – all of them black.


There’s nothing morally wrong with this arrangement. What is morally wrong is that we pretend that it isn’t like this.


We still have a long way to go in many areas.


By the way this isn’t just about race. Whilst disabled people do now have greater visibility and autonomy, the dreadful impact of mental illness in the workplace has still to be fully confronted. Far too many lesbian and gay people feel unable to come out at work.


But I would argue that it is on race and ethnicity that we still need to make the most progress. And it is on race and ethnicity that we are most complacent yet most divided.


Let me turn now to what action we might take to tackle these growing divides.




Some things we can’t control.


The internet is probably the most important of those challenges. Google tells us that actually it is fragmenting our society rather than uniting it – we seek out people who are like ourselves and ignore other voices.


Then there are our workplaces; there are now few of the vast car and manufacturing enterprises of the first half of the 20th century, where we are thrown together with others on the night shift from different backgrounds.


The integrating roles of churches, trades unions and political parties has waned as their influence has faded.


Practically, there’s little that we can do to arrest these megatrends in the short term.

But I think there are some things that we ought not to do, or at least prevent from happening.


Stopping Dis-integration


First, we can clamp down on practices that fragment the workplace by race and nationality.


A 2011 inquiry into the meat packing industry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission exposed an unexpected and unwelcome finding which may be a sign of the times.


It became apparent during the investigation that some companies were segregating their production lines. Many employers were quite open about their reasons, telling the investigators that: managers preferred particular nationalities for certain shifts as they regarded these workers as ‘more reliable’ or ‘hardworking’ some firms attempted to manage communication challenges or to avoid tensions by segregating shifts so that all workers spoke the same language; and frankly some supervisors refused to have certain nationalities working for them on grounds of race or colour.


Totally unacceptable. And totally commonplace.


Next, schools. Last year, David Goodhart, who will speak later in this series of talks, estimated that 60% of minority children started school in classes where white British children were in the minority and in London the figure was closer to 90%. That has to change, even if it means imposing a statutory threshold mix.


Third, distinguish between ethnocultural groups, many of whom differ more from each other than from the majority.


And fourth look more closely at what benefits some groups bring. For example, we could do with more openness about research like Professor Simon Burgess’ study which shows that the correlation between the spectacular improvement in London’s schools over the past decade and the change in their ethnic mix is near 100%.


No-one would claim that the decrease in underachieving whites and African Caribbeans, and the increase in overachieving Chinese, South Asian, African and Polish pupils can be the whole explanation. But surely, we could benefit by better understanding what these groups bring to the classroom?


Crucially if we knew what was going on, we might be able to explain to the wider population that this diversity may actually raise the attainment of their own children?


Finally: we need to be ready to spend whatever it takes – the Germans are spending 8 billion on funding their regional programmes of language tuition, housing, and infrastructure, over and above what they will spend federally.


That’s what government can do.


Let me turn to civil society and the private sector.


Civil Society and the Private Sector


Civil society does have some responsibility here. I said earlier that churches do not exercise the influence they once did. That doesn’t mean they should do nothing.


Today few of the majority community attend worship weekly. According to the ONS fewer than one in ten white Brits attend weekly. Contrast that with the enthusiasm of black worshippers over half of whom are in the pews every Sunday or Saturday. Might there not be a role here for the established church?


Particularly, church leaders might think harder about how to bring people of all backgrounds back top the pews – in the way that the Roman Catholic church has revived itself by the infusion of Africans Filipinos and Poles.


The private sector too ought to play a part, if only by providing countervailing pressures to dis-integration. I’d like to take my own industry, television as an example.


The box is still our nation’s campfire; TV news is the most consumed and the most trusted way of understanding what is happening around us.  It is a major part of the vital connective tissue that shares and maintains our collective view of the world.


That tissue is wearing alarmingly thin.


Depressingly, if you look at the numbers for our most watched news bulletin, the BBC’s Six O’clock News, the share amongst minorities is almost exactly half that for all viewers.


On the other hand, Channel 4 News is more popular amongst minority viewers by a factor of 78%.


We also compared the top ten programmes in 2015 amongst minorities with the top ten for all viewers.


The two tables, for all viewers on the one hand, and minority viewers on the other, do have ten shows in common. But they also have ten shows that they do not share. We can guess at some of the reasons.


Shows which hark back to the England of my childhood, where people like me seemed to have no material presence – Downton Abbey, Broadchurch, Call the Midwife, Poldark – hold little appeal for minorities.


Does this matter?


Yes it does. For four reasons: commercial; creative; political; and social.


The first reason is that for the next fifty years, the principal source of growth in the UK audience will be amongst minority viewers; and according to Ofcom some minority viewers are far heavier TV viewers than the average. That’s the commercial imperative.


The second reason is that, in spite of broadcaster scepticism, these tables show us that on-screen representation, whilst it’s not the only thing that counts, really does make a difference. That’s the creative imperative.


Third, people of colour are compelled by law to pay a hundred and fifty pounds a year for the upkeep of services that actually do not serve them. That’s the political imperative.


But the fourth reason is, in my view, by far the most important. What happens at home doesn’t stay at home. The phrase water-cooler television was coined to describe the impact of a great show the day after – everybody should be talking about it at the water-cooler or over coffee.


But imagine what it’s like to be in a workplace or a classroom where you’re the only person at your water-cooler. What everyone else saw last night isn’t what you watched. What you saw isn’t what they watched. Not only can TV tell us a story about our racial divisions – it can amplify those divisions by excluding whole groups from the shared conversation. That is the social imperative.


These are all ways of taming the beast of dis-integration. It may slow the drift towards “multa”. But it does not yet give us E Pluribus Unum. Only a national identity can do that. So I’d like to turn finally to the role of Englishness in that regard.


England and Englishness


For those of us with recent antecedents from outside the UK, the term “English” has always been an ethnic identity. Polite minority families tend to use the word “English” amongst themselves when what they really mean is “white”.


But no-one wants “English” to be an ethnic identity – by its nature it would never bind all of us together.


On the other hand, as the German example shows, a purely civic, constitutional, identity is just too thin.


I’d like to suggest a way forward; and the path to that way forward starts with some work we did in Scotland before the independence referendum.


In brief, ahead of the Scotland independence referendum, at Webber Phillips we undertook an analysis of Scotland’s eight tribes. You will know that they stretch from the Scandinavian-heritage Scots in the Faeroes, to the borders folk, who are closer to the English. That analysis led us to predict that the outcome would be less decisive than predicted by most experts – 60/40 – and more like 55/45.


Why did we reach that conclusion?


One group, people who would describe themselves as working class Scots from the West of Scotland, account for a large tribe, about 10% of all Scots. They display some interesting characteristics. They are the most loyal Labour voters; so most people assumed that they would be the most enthusiastic Unionists. In fact they turned out to be the most enthusiastic Yes voters – supporters of independence.




Our hypothesis is that this large group, who think of themselves as working class Scots have a rather more important characteristic that determines their behaviour – they are the descendants of Irish Catholics who came to Scotland several generations ago. Today they vote Labour, because, like their ancestors they disliked Tories. And they voted yes for exactly the same reason.


So what did this teach us? Three key lessons.


First, that national identity, even one as strong as Scottishness, does not have to be monolithic; in fact, few strong national identities really are culturally uniform.


Second, that we each may hold our national identity without consciously realising what it is or how it determines our behaviours.


Finally, a large part of what defines Scottishness is what it is not – Englishness. That is to say our national identity is often defined by what or who we are against.


A New National Identity


So how can we construct a unifying national identity?


And why not just rest on Britishness?


To start with, like Germanness, Britishness is very thin – a passport and a part time Queen who we share with 15 other nations.


Its myths aren’t that great: Churchill, the Spitfire maybe.


Its history, for all the pride in Parliament and so on, is somewhat negative – defined largely by imperial conquest, dislike of the French and Germans, and envy of the Americans.


Not a great 21st century model.


So what about Englishness?


Well, I think this is more promising. It has deep roots. Great myths – Alfred, for one. The first and second Elizabeths. Drake. Shakespeare.

And the myths are brilliantly value laden. Alfred and the cakes is a very English story: even a king may be scolded by the wife of swineherd.


And what better expresses fairness than Robin Hood’s mission to take from the rich and give to the poor?


Even our modern institutions may embody these values.


Dare I point out, for example, that England provides exactly the most fertile soil anywhere for the values expressed by an organisation like John Lewis to flourish – employee owned, democratic, dedicated to sharing the benefits of capitalism - and completely adored by middle England.


And English identity is culturally immensely capacious.


Baltis and chicken tikka masala. The Windrush story has escaped the story created by Mike and I to become a semi foundational national myth for all of England, celebrated in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony alongside Shakespeare, James Bond and the Queen - way beyond anything we imagined – because that is how England wants to think of itself.


So how do we make this kind of Englishness work for the popular mind? We need some rules that everyone knows and understands because they’ve been argued about and openly articulated.


Historically in this country we’ve relied on a class-based set of rules. In the past they didn’t need to be written down. But in this fast changing society, I think we need to have some explicit rules of the road for the way we interact with others.


A Highway Code for English Identity


Returning to the issue of immigrant integration, for newcomers to participate fully in society they do have to know what the rules of the society actually are.


Unfortunately, we do tend to turn our rules of social interaction into a kind of cryptic crossword puzzle.


We resist being too explicit or prescriptive about what being British is.

For example, I was recently invited to what was described as a small, informal supper at a stately home. Very nice.


Small meant twenty-four people - not quite my family's definition.


Informal meant an invitation on stiff card, with the words "no dress code". That's not a problem if you're a bloke; you wear a suit and no tie. For a woman it's more complicated.


Obviously, no tiaras - but pearls or no pearls? Summer frock or business suit? Trousers or skirt?


My wife made me ring up some people who'd been before to get some steer on the rules. Their guidance was typically English – encouraging but totally vague, of course. In the end she wore an outfit in which she felt comfortable - and of course being a woman of taste and discernment, she got it right.


But the point of the story is that it taught me a lesson about our country. When someone says "no dress code" what it really means is that if you don't already know what the code is - are you sure you really belong here.


We can’t go on that way.


I know that at the level of dinner parties we can probably get somewhere. But some other, more contentious rules of the road might involve treating women as equals in all situations including for example sharia councils.


I don’t suggest that everyone gets a book of etiquette – but maybe someone should write down some of these rules for public debate – a kind of highway code for national identity; perhaps a task for a distinguished academic based in a university. With a name beginning with W.

Lastly, as I’ve said, most national identities – or more precisely national myths - are forged in the heat of battle. Both positive and negative.


The War of Independence, the Civil War and Vietnam are defining for Americans.


But for us, the Second World war is a long time ago and a long way away. It seems irrelevant to today’s world – and our long string of colonial conquests is hardly the template for the 21st century.


Maybe our future enemies will be the traditional ones – Russia or France for example. Or perhaps we will need to confront the power and might of the transnationals. Or even the leaderless and anarchic forces that have been unleashed in the Middle East. A question too complex for me – and I’ve already gone on too long.


So let me leave with you with these questions – this is after all why we invented universities: to wrestle with puzzles which the ordinary man or woman has neither the time nor the wit to solve.


In the 21st century who and where is England’s Nemesis?


In what sort of battle will we confront our adversary?




What exactly are the values and behaviours that we will fight to defend?


If we can solve these puzzles, then we may one day learn who and what England is and will become. I look forward to hearing your answers.


Thank you.





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