Saturday, December 22, 2012

As Giles Fraser says (Guardian 9/6/2012) “Community is premised on sameness. And sameness excludes, however subtly… Sameness creates community and community looks after its own” As he goes on to say: “the great political question of the age is how one manages to combine diversity with social solidarity”. Fraser situates himself firmly against the Blue Labour pessimists David Goodhart and Maurice Glasman who argue that too much diversity (ie too much immigration) damages social solidarity. Fraser argues that “diversity and social solidarity can exist where there is a high degree of stability, where neighbours get to know each other and learn to celebrate their differences” It is this vision of community as a unity in diversity that we must seek to develop in the 21st Century. It is not a passive notion of multicultural tolerance or cultural relativism but rather an active process - a desire to live with and learn from diversity within a framework of universal human rights. This kind of community has to be created voluntarily – it does not just happen. It is about more than just “eating samosas together” and appreciating each others different cuisines and cultures” . There are clearly some recent policy developments that run completely counter to the establishment of such stable diversity. Moving poorer (and usually BME) people out of more prosperous parts of London, the caps on housing and other benefits and the ethnic and social cleansing of parts of London and other better off urban areas and the increasing concentration (ghettoisation) of poorer families in more deprived areas is a quite deliberate attempt to pre-empt the evolution of such diverse neighbourhoods.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thank God for Danny Boyle. The launch ceremony could not have been better - celebrating diversity (rather than the Chinese uniformity), history (rather than nostalgia), music fashion and dance - above all with humour. Tory commentators have castigated it either as "multicultural crap" or, for slightly more intelligent voices,like Toby Young as lacking an imperial dimension and leaving out Darwin and other scientists as well as positive images of capitalism. How can one not see the mention of the Windrush and indeed the very presence of so much diversity throughout all of the show as not being implicitly about Empire? On the Left we must become better at celebrating our view of the World in ways suggested by Boyle. We are on the side of history in stressing issues such as internationalism, cooperation, diversity, anti-racism and sensitivity to gender and sexuality etc. The nasty, selfish, small minded, parochial Tory view of life is not inevitable unless we allow it to be!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Rich don't need community

The Rich don't need community. Nor do they need social capital - they have the real thing. I doubt Tony Blair will ever be accused of lacking a community or social capital because he doesn't know who his neighbours in Connaught Square are. Cherie will not be seen as lacking bridging capital because she hasn't been round to her neighbours to say hello or borrow sugar when she has run out. As John Lanchester says in the Guardian Weekend ("Why the Super-Rich love the UK"): '"Community" that loaded word so beloved of politicians, is simply not a reality in most people's lives. It's normal for us to be cut off from each other. The super-rich, however, are so cut off that they are barely living here at all. Everything that can have the word "private" attached in front of it, they have: schools, hospitals, jets, islands." So much for "we are all in this together"'

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Olympic community?

This is the first decade in the history of mankind when it is estimated that more people are living in urban rather than rural and village environments. By 2050 it is estimated that 75% of humans will be urbanites. However, our discourse about community – how people can live together well – is hundreds of years behind this development. Notions of community are still completely dominated by rural and often deeply conservative and even feudal narratives that bear no resemblance to the reality that we need to understand and the futures we need to construct if we are to live successfully in highly diverse and increasingly globalised world cities. Nostalgia and outdated religious views usually characterise the traditional notion of community. A pre-Lapsarian idealised era is almost always conjured up so as to conclude that everything was better when we were a homogenous nation, before “they” arrived. This desperation for Merrie England (a time that has not only passed but never actually existed) is now a characteristic of English identity that has infected even relatively sensible people like Danny Boyle. The planned launch of the Olympics looks likely to be a parody of a bucolic pre-industrial country complete with cows, sheep and other farm animals (none of whom will be harmed in the making of this bizarre exhibition) Surely Britain of all places can do better than this? After all we were the first country to undergo the industrial revolution and the first to experience the huge movement of people from the countryside to the town - often forced off the land through enclosures and clearances - that it entailed. Our Empire, despite its dreadful history of rape and plunder, did result in the development of a far more mixed and cosmopolitan society in the UK than in most comparable European countries. If we can't construct viable ways of describing how we can live together in hyper diverse cities like London then noone can. The long struggles of Black and other minority communities in the UK against racism, the development of race relations and equalities legislation (even though it is now being undermined by the Tory-led Government), the increasing numbers of mixed heritage relationships and friendships are just some of the best features of contemporary life in the cities and towns of the UK. This is what we should be celebrating at the start of the Olympics rather than another tired old version of the Archers.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

An excellent article in today's Independent: "David Cameron’s Oppressive Big Society"
By Ryan Shorthouse. It argues that some of our ways of seeking community are positively dangerous and concludes that community is something we do or that we make rather than it being a timeless and ahistorical concept: "In modern-day Britain, we do not need communities with archaic assumptions constraining individual behaviour – we need strong individuals building diverse and tolerant communities. Its big people who create the Big Society we want."