You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2007.

I hope we weren’t the only people glued to Love Trap, a Channel Four series which finished yesterday evening but which you can watch again on the internet in the UK on Four on Demand.  Five unsuspecting men thought they were all being filmed on a blind date with a gorgeous Swedish girl, Carolina.  What they didn’t know is that they were part of an “experiment” to determine whether men from different cultures did loving and wooing differently, and that the same Swedish girl was putting all five through the same tests.  She wanted them to be chivalrous, good cooks, polite to her parents, brave when her bag was attached, romantic in the park, trustworthy when she wouldn’t let them see risqué pictures of her and then left the room, game – when she took them to a nude mixed sauna or got them roller blading round Regents Park, caring and considerate  – when her heel broke, and so on. 

The Brit won – couldn’t put a foot wrong.  He was closely followed by the German.  The Ugandan came nowhere despite having carried her all the way home when her heel broke, possibly because she watched him on a secret camera talking on the phone to his girlfriend back home and using exactly the same language he had just used to her.  The Italian was a big disappointment all round until the bag was snatched and then he grew giant-like in stature and a white charger appeared out of nowhere. 

As for the Australian …  all the others had brought over a “love adviser” who was a best friend, and well versed in the ways of the fairer sex if not womanising.  The Australian brought his grandfather, and butchered Waltzing Matilda in front of her parents, thought wearing her pink tights on his head was a good fashion move, that “belly full of grub” was ripe for inclusion in a love sonnet, and got so excited about the thought of those risqué pictures that he will forever live in shame if he ever sees his performance. 

 The “experiment” proved nothing at all except that there are good men and bad men, funny men and stupid men, boring men, brave men and cowards, imaginative men and half-hearted men, but that – with the exception of Italians apparently, they all love Swedish blondes unconditionally.  

Love Trap


Here’s my preferred version of Waltzing Matilda.  I still remember hearing Tom Waits’ growl for the first time almost thirty years ago … and I still can’t think of anybody I’d prefer to listen to late at night.

I’ve removed the moderation on comments for now.  I’m often asleep when a comment arrives and so it does not appear for a while – not ideal.  Please feel free to respond to other people’s comments too.  As always, I’d love to know what people think – please do not be put off from commenting …


From the Guardian today:

Exam results show black pupils closing learning gap

· Ministers say policies to target black boys working
· GCSE figures show poorer pupils still lag behind

Polly Curtis, education editor

“Black pupils are closing the educational gap at GCSE, according to official results published yesterday which suggest that the tradition of children from white and Asian backgrounds routinely outperforming their black classmates, and girls getting better results than boys, is beginning to shift.

Ministers claim that the breakdown of this year’s GCSE results by ethnicity, gender and qualification for free school meals proves that policies to target black boys are beginning to work. But the results also reveal a stubborn gap in the achievement of pupils from poorer backgrounds. Just over 35% of children eligible for free school meals get five good GCSEs, compared with 63% of pupils not eligible. Working-class boys, regardless of ethnicity, are the lowest-achieving group. Less than a third of boys on free school meals got five good GCSEs this year.

The gender gap, the rate at which girls outperform boys, decreased to 9.1 percentage points last year from 9.7 the year before, continuing a five-year trend. This year, 49.1% of black Caribbean pupils got five good GCSEs, compared with 44.4% last year and up from 35.6% in 2004. The proportion of pupils overall getting five good GCSEs was 59.3% – but only 45.4% when English and maths are included.

Lord Adonis, the schools minister, said: “Since 2003, the percentage increase in the number of black Caribbean pupils achieving five good GCSEs has been almost double the national increase, meaning that the gap has narrowed by eight percentage points in four years.”

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “These results show starkly that social class has become the pre-eminent issue for government to tackle.”

The shadow children’s secretary, Michael Gove, said: “We should be closing the gap between the poorest and the rest in our schools, but it is widening, with those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds achieving less, and dropping out earlier.”

The government is preparing to publish a 10-year plan for children in the next month which will focus on raising the achievement gap for pupils from different backgrounds in a tacit acknowledgment that improvements in results across the board since Labour came to power in 1997 have left some pupils struggling.

The plan will include measures to provide more “personalised learning” for pupils, including one-to-one tutoring where children are lagging behind.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, this week called for schools to set quotas for the number of working-class children to ensure that schools are more socially mixed, arguing that social class was more divisive than ethnicity in terms of achievement.”

(From the BBC)

“In the major western economies, only Italy and the USA have more poverty than the UK.

Sweden, which pays more generous social security benefits than the UK,  has about 10% of its population in poverty, compared to close to 20% in the UK.”


Child Poverty Action Group

[This NGO has a long and proud record of fighting poverty in the UK, especially for bringing court actions against the government and for publishing the best books on issues affecting the poor including welfare benefits, debt, housing.  These books are found in every lawyers’ library and advice centre.]

Oxfam, Poverty in the UK

Low Income and Ethnicity

Rowntree Foundation: Recent Report on Child Poverty

Social and Spatial Ineqalities Research Group, University of Sheffield

The New Black Magazine : Link to image and recent article

Crowd of people

The Guardian

Wednesday November 28 2007

Government figures predict UK population could be anything from 63 million to 108 million by 2081.

Britain’s population could almost double to 108 million within 75 years, according to government projections published yesterday.

The Office for National Statistics said that, based on high estimates of growth in immigration, fertility and longevity, the current population of 60.5 million could rise to 75 million by 2031 and 108.7 million by 2081.

But the projections drawn up by the Government Actuary’s Department to help Whitehall plan pension and welfare provision also show that in a scenario of low fertility, low life expectancy and low migration, the population would increase to 66 million by 2056 and then dip to 63 million by 2081.

The ONS says its “principal projection”, the one it thinks most likely, is that Britain’s population will reach 71 million within 25 years, 78 million within 50 years and 85 million by 2081. Statisticians have tentatively estimated that 69% of Britain’s future population growth is likely to come directly or indirectly from migration including a rising birth rate attributed to a growing number of young migrants.

The figures were published as migration experts said the next significant flow of workers could be Poles who have been working in the Irish construction sector making their way to the London Olympics site.

The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, told MPs the projections showed what might happen in 75 years’ time unless action is taken now. “Frankly, it underlines the need for the swift and sweeping changes we are bringing to the immigration system in the next 12 months, which will include the introduction of an Australian-style, points-based system, so only those that Britain needs can come to work and study.

“I think it shows we are right to set the points score for new migrants by considering not only the good of the economy but the realities of immigration’s wider impact.”

The migration advisory committee has been set up to advise ministers on how an inflow of people can fill skills shortages, while the migration impacts forum was established to monitor the wider social impact of migration.

The points system will not only restrict the inflow of migrants from outside the European Union but also lay down a new framework for those coming to Britain for family reunion purposes and as students.

The shadow home secretary, David Davies, said the projections confirmed Conservative claims that the population is likely to grow rapidly and said the government needed to wake up to the factors that were driving population change.

The ONS projections were published as parliament heard that the latest figures show there are 40,000 Bulgarians and Romanians living in Britain, far below the unofficial 58,000 estimate. The figures, drawn from the Labour Force Survey carried out in June, include about 35,000 who have registered to work under various Borders and Immigration Agency schemes.

Prof David Blanchflower, of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, told the House of Lords economic affairs committee that the next significant flow of migrants to Britain was likely to be of Poles and other east European migrants coming from Ireland to London’s Olympic sites. He suggested that the next wave of workers from east Europe was likely to be less skilled than those who have come so far: “The anecdotal evidence is the young man who came to Britain after EU accession went back home and then came back with his brother, and they then went back and brought back their father and mother.”

Prof Janet Dobson of University College London said weekend reports that schools had been asked to cope with more than 200,000 east European migrant children in the last three years were wide of the mark. Slough, which had one of the highest migrant populations, had 258 new pupils from Poland in the last 18 months. She told peers the total figure was more likely to be in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the impact of new migrants had been particularly acute in small rural schools which lacked the resources to cope with new arrivals.

The education experts who gave evidence agreed that lack of data from schools meant it was difficult to assess the impact of migration on education.


The official prediction that Britain’s population could almost double over the next 75 years certainly makes an eye-catching headline. But there is such a wide variation between the “high scenario” and the “low scenario” published by the Office of National Statistics that their figures range between 108 million by 2081 at the top and 64 million by the same date at the bottom. The biggest single factor in where the final figure will lie is thought to be migration and the “high” variant assumes that the population will increase by 250,000 a year due to migration.

That seems unlikely as it is 60,000 higher than the net figure of 190,000 a year who came after Poland joined the EU in the biggest ever migration to the UK. But if Turkey (71 million) and Ukraine (41 million) join the EU with unfettered access to the UK, that could change significantly.

Laissez-passer issued to International Civil Servants of the United Nations

Proper UN Convention status refugees are issued with a blue travel document, accepted worldwide.  I will always remember the first one I held and how it made me want to cry.  

Not all asylum seekers can show the well founded fear of persecution needed to gain refugee status.  UK asylum seekers granted the lesser status of Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR), or humanitarian protection under the European Convention on human rights, or those granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) are still nationals of the countries they have fled.  They are generally expected to keep their national passports current and use that to travel outside the UK to third countries.  Alternatively, in certain circumstances they are allowed to travel under a brown travel document or Certificate of Identity, issued by the UK government.  These are now issued by the new Border and Immigration Authority and cost £210.00. 

In order to get a brown travel document you need to show that you have applied to your own country for a passport and this has been formally and unreasonably refused.  Reasonable refusals – such as because of criminal convictions or failure to complete military service – will mean that the UK, too, will refuse to issue the travel document and you will be marooned here.

Only if you can show written evidence of the refusal and can show that it was unreasonable will you be issued with a brown travel document.

Mr and Mrs V call themselves “refugees”.   Technically they are not.  They are Serbs and left Yugoslavia in 2000 and typical of many who sought safety in the United Kingdom.  In 2002 they were granted ELR for four years, as was the practice then.  This temporary ELR status meant that the UK reserved the right, after the four years had elapsed, to decide that it was safe for them to return to their own country.  For them it meant four years of underlying tension – never knowing whether this would be their home for good, whether they should put down roots, or whether they should always hope to go back home.

They managed to get a brown travel document each, also valid for four years.  This enabled them to travel to see other close family members who had also left Yugoslavia.  Both the ELR and the travel documents ran out in 2006.  The Home Office was swamped with applications from the many hundreds in identical positions, wanting their ELR extended or converted into the more coveted ILR. 

Mr and Mrs V have recently got a decision.  They now have ILR and may stay in the UK indefinitely.  Many others are still waiting.

Once they have been here for a whole year with ILR, and providing they have been resident in the UK for five years by then, Mr and Mrs V will be able to apply for naturalisation as British Citizens, provided they can find the £735 fee for a couple applying together.  The will have to show that they are of good character and sound mind, and that they are familiar with the life and language of the United Kingdom.  If they are over 65 they may be exempt from the life and language test.  Once they are British Citizens, they may apply for a British passport to travel to other countries.

Until then, Mr and Mrs V have a conundrum.  They would very much like to travel to a third country to visit Mrs V’s elderly mother, paralysed by a stroke, but they have no laissez passer.  They must apply to the Serbian embassy for new passports.  If those are issued, they must travel under these passports – which seems odd when the UK has acknowledged that they are unable to return to Serbia and, indeed, their former brown travel documents were stamped good for every other country in the world but their own.

If the passports are refused, then they will have to show that the refusal was unreasonable.  Only then will the travel documents be issued.

Mr and Mrs V may be able to persuade the Border and Immigration Agency to issue a brown travel document on compassionate grounds.  They will need to show that they have to travel urgently and will need evidence of the compassionate grounds, such as a doctor’s certificate for Mrs V’s mother.  In the meantime Mrs V’s mother gets older by the day.

Try explaining that to a couple who speak about 100 words of English between them …


Driving up from Denver to Steamboat last summer, windows down, wide open roads, steady speed, ears popping as we climbed even higher towards the mountains, a new country to explore, and Alison Krauss to keep us company.  Mmm (in a kind of Colbie Caillat way).

Down to the River to Pray is my favourite of Alison Krauss’s songs. 

She’s recently teamed up with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant on a new album, Raising Sand.  Thank you, Marie, for telling me about it, in an indirect fashion!  I’m looking forward to listening to it.  Here is an interview with both Alison Krauss and Robert Plant woven through with extracts from the new album (long – over 8 minutes).

From the Observer today:

We love celebrity culture but loathe the unfairness of fame, seeing it as an excuse to ridicule the Britneys of our world. Julian Baggini explores our peculiar love-hate relationship with success

“If you want an insight into British attitudes to success, just think of Richard Branson. He’s rich, successful, philanthropic and a record-breaking explorer to boot. None the less, he’s also seen as a vain self-publicist who’s better at marketing himself than running things. No wonder he has featured both in lists of the 100 Greatest Britons and the 100 Worst Britons.

Branson perfectly illustrates a paradox in British attitudes to success. On the one hand, we specialise in sneering at it. Only a quintessentially British songwriter like Morrissey could have written a song called ‘We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful,’ with such poisonous lines as ‘If we can destroy them, you bet your life we will,’ and ‘If we can hurt them, well, we may as well’. Building people up only to knock them down again is a national pastime.

But on the other hand, we do success rather well. The achievements of the United Kingdom are way out of proportion with its size. Only the much larger USA has produced more Nobel Laureates than the UK. Great Britain lies sixth in the all-time Olympic medal table, when it is currently only the 22nd most populous nation in the world. British literature, television and pop music are among the most highly regarded and enjoyed around the globe. In business, ours is the fifth biggest economy in the world.

What explains this combination of negative attitudes to success and high achievement? One clue comes from sport. Consider the case of the recently retired Tim Henman. Henman is the most successful British tennis player of the open era, who at his peak only had three men in the world ranked above him. Yet his image is of a plucky loser, an underdog we love to root for but don’t really expect to win.

We took Henman’s success for granted as we assume we belong at the top, and anything else just doesn’t impress us. The same bizarre logic ensures that only a World Cup-winning football team will ever satisfy the nation. Yet England does not belong to the elite club of only five nations who have won the world cup outside their own country. We believe we belong at the top of the tree, even though the evidence is firmly against us. So much for the famous British empiricism.

The British assumption of superiority is internationally renowned, and reiterated in our national songs. ‘Rule Britannia’ declares that we are sovereign over the oceans, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ declares our bounds shall be set wider and wider and that God made us mighty and is going to make us mightier yet. Humble we are not.

Britain on top

Underlying all this is an assumption about the natural order of things, which, put plainly, has Britain on top and everyone else underneath. But this same sense of the natural order extends to within our borders too, and is reflected in one of the most famous hymns to have come out of the Church of England. The third verse of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ tells us ‘The rich man in his castle / The poor man at his gate / God made them, high or lowly / And order’d their estate.’ It is a perfect encapsulation of the class system’s perceived naturalness and legitimacy.

The verse is rarely sung these days because we like to think we live in more meritocratic times. But class awareness persists. There is still a distinction made between people who were born into the upper echelons of society and those who clawed their way up. The latter are almost always treated with a certain degree of condescension. We are never allowed to forget that the likes of the Beckhams or Alan Sugar are not true blue-bloods but are, in all senses of the word, too vulgar for their late-found wealth. We may have become a more economically mobile society, but you are branded with your class identifiers at birth and you never lose them.

In contrast the US embraces, at least on the surface, a more dynamic view. The American Dream is that anyone can succeed, regardless of where you come from. Although the dream is too often just that, anyone who has spent any time in America will know there is something in it.

 For instance, 10 years ago Jeremy Stangroom and I started the Philosophers’ Magazine. At conferences in the UK, many academics would wander past our table, looking suspiciously at this unfamiliar upstart, judged non bona fide until proven otherwise. Their body language was at times quite extraordinary: I can picture some of them flicking through the display copies while keeping as physically far from them as possible. It wasn’t just academics. I remember one person seeing our first issue and asking sceptically whether there would be a second. Success is the impostor here: what we expect is failure and disappointment.

In the US it was completely different. People came to us enthusiastic about our new venture. They wished us luck, bought copies and told us what a good idea it was. The door was not just open to opportunity there, you were positively beckoned in. Back in Britain, the door was not exactly locked, but if you dared to enter a new room, it was up to you to make sure you fitted in.

 But then we return to the paradox: Britain has produced two successful, independent philosophy magazines; the much larger US hasn’t produced any. In America people may will you to succeed, but we do very well without such encouragement over here. Perhaps there is no paradox, perhaps it is simply the case that scepticism and suspicion are better friends to the ambitious than blind faith. Indeed, it is not entirely good that younger generations are beginning to adopt the ‘you can be anything you want to be’ mantra. Too many people are being told that if they want something enough, they will get it, as though desire is some kind of supernatural force that moulds the world to your fancy.

This is the kind of pernicious nonsense behind the runaway success on both sides of the Atlantic of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a book which explains the ‘law of attraction’, a widely held new-age view that your thoughts determine your experience. As is so often the case, the irony of an apparently spiritual world view teaching such rampantly narcissistic egoism is usually lost.

The danger of such positive thinking gone nuclear is that it blinds people to hard realities. We already see thousands of people auditioning to TV talent shows convinced that they will be pop stars if they believe enough, even though they clearly can’t hold a note. Yet we seem to accept now that it is wrong to question anyone’s dream. We don’t only have to believe in ourselves, we have to believe in everyone else too.

 A little more American-style inculcation of the possibilities the world has to offer would be no bad thing, especially for children who miss out on private education’s greatest benefit: a sense that the world is your oyster. But perhaps it is better to meet new world optimism halfway, somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, and keep it tempered with some sober realism.

The British way does have some other advantages over more ostentatiously pro-success cultures. For instance, there has always been room in British culture for freelancers, mavericks and outsiders. In many European countries, such as Italy, intellectual life is firmly the monopoly of the professoriate. We may lament the way in which Oxbridge produces so many of the ruling elite, but France’s Grandes Ecoles have an even greater stranglehold on the routes to power. There is a respect for difference and diversity here which again sits oddly with the general conservatism of class and tradition.

Our peculiar mix of convention and innovation is explained by the fact that Britain is the land of evolution, not revolution. We may be conservative, but unlike many traditional societies, we are not rigid in our social rules and practices. The Victorians, for example, invented the middle classes: people who were neither born to money nor destined to forever be employees, but entrepreneurs who provided the missing link between the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate.

The comparison with the new middle classes in many of the emerging economies is revealing. People sometimes celebrate the bullish entrepreneurs of India and the far east and think we could learn something from their can-do attitude. Perhaps we can, but we need to remember that we are an old economy and the frontier spirit which sees every opportunity as a blank slate is simply not appropriate here.

British success is rooted in a collective experience of a rich, fruitful past. We are cautious and sceptical, but that means that when we do something new, it is more likely to be built on firm foundations, not just the utopian desire for a better future.

We may be quiet and even disparaging about success when it comes, but in our understated way, we’re well equipped to achieve it.”

Julian Baggini is editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine. His most recent book is Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind (Granta)

Shoe Fetish

At Liberty yesterday.

Thinking more about the parables of Rabbi Johnathan Sacks in relation to the three models of integration of immigrants summarised in a previous post, I came across an article from Prospect magazine, written in 2005 by Bhikhu Parekh.  The article is based on a speech given in 2004 at the International Labour Organisation and published as “Unity and Diversity in Multicultural Societies”.  Lord Parekh, Baron Parekh of Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire, holds the Centennial Professorship at the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics, and was previously Chair of the Runnymeade Commission on the future of Multi-Ethnic Britain.  In many ways Parekh’s article is a precursor of the themes developed in Jonathan Sacks’s more recent book.  His article deals not only with the obligations of the community towards new immigrants but also the obligations of immigrants towards their new society.  It is not just about rights, but also about responsibilities. 

Parekh begins by reminding us that most developed societies are inescapably multicultural in the sense that there is enormous diversity of belief amongst people.  Causes of this diversity include: 

  • The rise of moral individualism

  • A decline in the traditional moral consensus

  • Ethnic and religious diversity

  • Globalisation

  • Immigration

 In an article that focuses on the diversity introduced by immigrants and the responsibility of immigrants in relation to society, Parekh remarks at the outset that immigrants do not necessarily introduce any further diversity into a society and more often than not tend to share the views of the majority.  Of the three models described by Sacks in his parables – the assimilationist or “country house” model, the “thin” integrationist or “hotel” model, and the third most desirable model of shared ownership – it is unsurprisingly the third model that Parekh, too, recommends.  In this third view of “equal citizenship” there is a recognition that a political community is a voluntary organisation of free and equal citizens held together by principles of justice as embodied in the structure of public authority and a regime of rights and obligations.  In other words a political community is a “bottom-up” and not a “top down” creation. 

In order for this political community to have any meaning for the participants, individuals have to identify with, or own, the community, accepting responsibility for it and promoting its wellbeing.  Ownership will include a sense of history which builds past experience into the identification, and will also include a future hopeful projection that plans the extension of the identification.  It is this past/present/future sense of common belonging that Parekh wants to see developed in Britain, including a moral and emotional commitment. Parekh draws a simple analogy with a membership club: 

“Ordinary clubs and associations insist on rules of membership, and rightly expect their successful new applicants to join them in good faith, observe their norms and do nothing to undermine them.” 

Belonging to the club does not involve severing ties with the individual’s country of origin, but does involve affording the new country an intrinsic value as a “home” and not just a place in which they happen to live or a place to make money.  Nor does the club always remain the same: it is inevitable that a society will change as new members are admitted and it is this inescapable change that threatens existing members. Immigrants should, Parekh argues, express their commitment to their new home.  This may be in one of the following ways: 

    • Respecting the existing structure of authority
    • Participating in the common life of the society
    • Discharging their share of collective responsibility by being productive workers, not abusing available welfare provisions.
    • Explicit professions of loyalty and patriotic sentiments 

Participation in the public sphere of the new society does not, however, rule out a personal, private sphere of activity where the immigrants are free to carry on their lives as they wish.  This freedom is, after all, already enjoyed by their fellow citizens. In order to participate in the public sphere, immigrants will need to acquire a “cultural competence” by learning the majority language, understanding and observing norms of civility and behaviour and familiarising themselves with the “small morals” of society, that is, society’s traditions, history, moral sensibilites and habits of thoughts. 

As this cultural competence is acquired, there will be a tendency to internalise the majority culture of the society, even where the practices seem to have no practical meaning.  Parekh gives the example of standing up for the national anthem: 

“There is nothing insincere, hypocritical or self-alienating about observing them without endorsing them, for it shows respect for society and its way of life, and facilitates good relations with its members.  Being new,  immigrants are unlikely to fully master the complex cultural grammar of a society.  But unless they make a sincere effort to acquire a modicum of cultural competence, they show lack of respect for society and create serious difficulties for themselves.  Their commitment to society is likely to be questioned.  They would be unable to communicate their aspirations and frustrations nor understand why sometimes others respond to these with incomprehension or resentment.  They also remain at the mercy of their more articulate spokesmen and brokers who have their own political agendas.”

In return for the moral and emotional commitment of immigrants, the wider society needs to ease their transition, recognising that the immigrant is often up against the following difficulties: 

    • The likelihood of experiencing discrimination and hostility from some members of the society
    • Discrimination in significant areas of life
    • Disadvantages resulting from poverty and lack of the majority language
    • The trauma of transition from one culture to another
    • Anxieties about their children
    • A mismatch between their aspirations and the reality of their new life 

Whilst formal and institutional discrimination if fairly easy to manage, informal discrimination is more insidious and will wear down victims and build resentment.  Living together can provide immigrants with a sense of security which enables them to overcome these feelings of discrimination.  Once they feel personally and socially secure they are more likely to begin to reach out to the wider society and experiment with its ways of life and thought.  In other words, informal, voluntary segration may be a positive thing in the short term;

“immigrants tend to move out of ethnically concentrated areas when they feel physically secure, acquire cultural self-confidence, improve their economic prospects and feel sure that they will not face rejection.” 

Measures to combat discrimination and to foster this self-confidence will be most effective if carried out at a local level.  Local schools are particularly important and must strive to avoid the assimilationist ethos that immigrants fear.  A broad programme of multicultural education “should also reduce the demand for separate ethnic and religious schools, which sometimes stand in the way of a common sense of belonging”. 

Parekh warns of the danger of ignoring understandable fears of the majority as change occurs: 

“A common sense of belonging is easier when both the majority and minority communities feel at ease with themselves and each other.  If minorities feel threatened, besieged, and fearful of cultural extinction, they turn inward, become defensive and tend to avoid all but the minimum contact with the rest of society.  This is equally true of the majority.  If it feels it is no longer in charge of its future and that its way of life is subject to relentless erosion, it becomes defensive and intolerant and either tries to close its doors to immigration, or falls prey to the unrealistic and self-defeating project of assimilation or total integration.” 

A fair, transparent and publicly debated immigration policy is essential, and must address the legitimate fears about immigration whilst combating racist rejection of all immigrants.  To refuse to recognise the fears, or the distinction between reasonable fears and racism is to be politically irresponsible.  Equally, a new British identity must be capable of being expressed in a plurality of images and must be capacious enough to encompass not only the traditional literary image of a green and rolling landscape of “church bells, quiet Sundays, dreaming spires, emotional self-disclipline, and the art of understatement and irony” but must also embrace the newer images from immigrant writers of elderly gentlemen walking to Friday prayers, of Diwali celebrations in public squares, spicy food and saris. 

On the one hand a British identity must be strong and fulfilling enough to enrich those who currently feel alienated and lonely.  On the other hand there must be a strong spirit of mutual commitment between the Muslim community and the wider British society. 


Through a train window

I forgot to take a camera to Holland, and only had my mobile phone with me.  On the train ride from the port to Amsterdam the very early morning light falling across the flat fields was so beautiful, with the vapour trail in the sky following the same trajectory as the  dyke.  On Sunday evening the autumn sun went down suddenly over the lake in the north of the Netherlands, the light changing from gold to grey to purple in the space of a few minutes.