Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Community cohesion is a con! They don't even believe in it themselves!

Community cohesion is a deeply ideological notion. It is the soft side of the Government's war on terror. However when New Labour tries to explain what they mean by it - vague notions of trust and social bonding and bridging, "the glue that holds communities together", "meaningful conversations for at least 15 minutes with people of a different ethnic group", community anchors in each neighbourhood etc. - the only thing that becomes clear is their own lack of clarity, coherence and consistency.

If New Labour really believed in what they call these unifying and empowering "social anchors" where people can meet as a "community" then how can we explain their mania for closing such spaces down? In fact the only explanation is that they don't really believe in community cohesion themselves - or at least not to the degree that their own definition of it has a real place in their wider policy direction. Simon Jenkins sees this clearly in his Guardian article ("Closure mania ignores the real cost of axing post offices" 19/3/08) where he points out that "the state's pursuit of shortsighted savings is ripping the heart from communities. No wonder Britain is up in arms". He traces the importance of the rural Post Office directly back to that nostalgia for a vanished world, a "sense of community" which is so quintessentially Middle English: "The village post office evokes the age of Hovis and prison mailbags, of bicycle clips and little red vans. It is the Miss Marple public service, the acceptable face of nationalised industry". Whatever one thinks of his nostalgia for a disappearing world or his views of nationalised industries, he has a point about the contradictory approach of the Government. It is not just post offices. In the past 10 years the number of police stations fell by over 20% and a further 40 are threatened, including 13 in London. Local "community anchors" such as district and cottage hospitals and local schools are disappearing faster than ever before. Changes to legal aid funding are about to decimate local advice agencies such as Law Centre and CABx. As Jenkins says: "there is no way of measuring the impact on communities of thus ripping out their institutional memories and meeting places. It must be savage". The Government, he says, is turning communities "into bleak, car-reliant dormitories, devoid of places of casual association". Local people buy into the notion of community even more than the Government do and are quite capable of using this notion against New Labour who are so confused by where they stand on this all. He notes that: "Hazel Blears, the so-called communities minister, has not lifted a finger in protest. Yet having voted for hospital closures, she herself turned tail and campaigned against them when they hit her Salford constituency".

So much for "places of casual association" as a vital part of community cohesion. There are other even more fundamental inconsistencies which New Labour so hates to have drawn to its attention. Quite how private and religious schools promote community cohesion is a question that half frightens them to death. How such "cohesion" can survive the increases in relative inequlity between the poorest and the richest in our society and the increasing death of social mobility is a question that they refuse to discuss. Of course they are very happy to blame this breakdown of "community cohesion" on too many immigrants who refuse to integrate. And here lies the latent xenophobia and racism that lies at the core of this incoherent and dangerous view of the world.

And above all DON'T MENTION THE WAR. You can level as much bile and blame as you like against violent and fundamentalist muslim jihadis. What you are not allowed to say is that the radicalisation of so many muslims (and the "breakdown of community cohesion") is a direct response to our Foreign policy and the millions of dead, injured and displaced muslims in an illegal war.