By Rosie Carter and Nick Lowles
Fifty years on from the Rivers of Blood speech, Enoch Powell’s dire predictions of societal collapse have not materialised. But anxieties around immigration and integration continue to cause concern for many.
According to an exclusive YouGov poll of over 5,000 people commissioned by HOPE not hate (building on previous Fear and HOPE polls commissioned by HOPE not hate since 2011+), the British public remains pessimistic about the state of multiculturalism and integration, and fears it will get worse.
While there is a gulf between people’s negative perceptions and the more cordial reality, multiculturalism has been an uneven success, leaving some areas of Britain more integrated than others.
There have been huge advances in race relations, thanks to governmental and non-governmental action and the growth of closer connections between different communities. But many challenges remain across, and between, these communities, and also in some specific areas of the country.
With anxiety about British Muslims and Islam in particular replacing immigration as the main area of concern 50 years since Powell’s speech, challenging anti-Muslim prejudice and creating a more positive narrative around British Muslims will be a central to the continuing advancement of race relations in the UK.
Powell’s dire predictions of societal breakdown haven’t materialised but people remain pessimistic about the state of multiculturalism and integration, and fear it will get worse.
Exclusive YouGov polling of 5,200 people for HOPE not hate has found:
- 41% believe that Britain’s multicultural society isn’t working and different communities generally live separate lives. While 43% of our poll feel that Britain is a successful multicultural society where people from different backgrounds generally get along well together, this group is heavily concentrated among highly educated people, Remain voters and Liberal Democrat supporters. Multiculturalism is a polarising issue.
- 43% of respondents think that relationships between different communities within the UK will get worse over the next few years, with just 14% believing things will get better. Worryingly, this crosses many of the demographic and voting pattern divides.
- Even more worryingly, many feel that these tensions will lead to violence. 40% of people felt that Enoch Powell’s dire predictions of social breakdown and violence in his Rivers of Blood speech proved accurate, while only 41% believe he was wrong.
- Anxieties towards British Muslims, and Islam generally, has replaced immigration as the key issue of concern for many Britons. 37% of all respondents see Islam as a threat to the British way of life compared to 33% who see the Muslim faith and the British way of life as compatible. Last year’s terrorist attacks greatly increased suspicion towards British Muslims and this effect continues to be felt today.
- A link between Islamic extremism and the failure of integration in Britain is drawn by a high proportion of the British public.
However, there appears to be a gulf between perception and reality. The reality is that multiculturalism has been an uneven success, leaving some areas of Britain more integrated than others.
- Community relations are not without issues, but on the whole people feel happy in their communities, well integrated, and mix well with people of different ethnic backgrounds to themselves.
- Data from the community life survey shows that 81% of people feel well integrated into their community.
- Our poll shows most people have close friends from different ethnic backgrounds to themselves and almost a third of people say that they or a family member has been in a relationship with someone of a different ethnicity to themselves in the last few years. 25% of Londoners have been in a relationship with someone of a different ethnicity to themselves.
- Young people are a lot more positive about multiculturalism and integration and a lot less anxious about Muslims than older people.
- Just as positively, our poll finds 60% of people think that immigration has been good for Britain, up from 40% when people were asked the same question in 2011 and 50% when people were asked in January 2016.
There have been huge advances in race relations, from governmental and non-governmental action through to closer connections between different communities. However, many challenges remain across, and between communities, and in some specific areas of the country.
- Some of the negative attitudes towards migrants and Muslims are clearly shaped by the wider media and social media narrative, which is often negative and carries a dominant narrative that conflates a failure of integration with violent extremism. Social contact between people of different backgrounds is key to ensuring good community relations. The more people meet and interact in their daily lives, the less likely they are to hold negative views about people.
- While Britain is a more integrated society than many of us initially think, there is no disguising the fact that significant problems exist and must be tackled, especially those rooted in economic problems and cultural anxieties.
- With the Government’s own Race Disparity Audit report highlighting great societal inequalities for people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, the ongoing threat of Islamist and far-right terrorism and provocation, and rapidly changing demographics (with predictions that Britain’s BAME communities will make up 36% of the population by 2050), building stronger and more integrated communities must be a priority for us all.
- Integration is as much about reversing economic inequalities and providing people and communities with the opportunities to progress as it does challenging racism and prejudice.
- With HOPE not hate’s research showing a clear link between economic pessimism and negative attitudes towards immigrants and multiculturalism, we cannot address the latter without improving the life chances for those who currently see no hope.
As when Powell spoke, a huge amount of work was needed to provide alternative messages of hope, and real action from government and communities to stop Powell’s vision from becoming reality, we need action today to stop a slip towards hardening attitudes and to rebuild public trust. Powell’s speech prompted action, the anniversary must do the same.