Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

The Independent's Johann Hari explains why state spending should be increased, not cut:

The cut-cut-cut chorus appears not to have heard of what John Maynard Keynes called "the paradox of thrift". In a recession, it is rational for you and I to cut back on our spending. You holiday at home, put any spending plans on ice and save what you can. So it seems instinctively right to expect governments to do the same. But Keynes showed that if governments cut back at the same time as its citizens cut back, the recession gets even worse. Nobody is buying anything; demand collapses. More people are laid off, and the state has to spend even more in the end.

If only Gordon Brown could argue like that.

Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times that the ugly town hall demonstrations against Obama's healthcare reforms reflect cultural and racial prejudice:

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that's behind the "birther" movement, which denies Mr. Obama's citizenship.

He invokes Yeats's The Second Coming to describe the muted state of the American left:

But right now Mr. Obama's backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn't living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.

Steve Richards argues in The Independent that neither Harriet Harman nor Peter Mandelson will be the next Labour leader. Of Mandelson he writes:

Personally he has enjoyed the best media ever. All would change if he were to change from king-maker to king-seeker. If Labour loses the election, the focus will be on the next generation even if the party does not have a single credible younger candidate yet.

Earlier this week I explained why Mandelson, an obedient courtier, would wither like a salted snail in power.

Richards also reveals that Gordon Brown was planning to announce during his party conference speech that he was willing to take part in live debates with Cameron.

The Daily Telegraph's Con Coughlin explains how Bill Clinton's failures as president allowed North Korea to achieve full nuclear capability.

The Clinton administration handed over millions of dollars in aid, food, oil and even a nuclear reactor in the hope of persuading the North Koreans to ditch their military programme. They simply took the aid and carried on with nuclear development regardless, so that by 2006 they were able to detonate a device.

Jenni Russell on Comment Is Free eloquently rails against a TUC motion calling for "extremely sexist" high heels to be banned from the workplace.

It's been one of the great mistakes of the left in Britain to confuse equality with sameness, and to think that if we can just eliminate sexual differences, or sexual awareness in the workplace, the world would be a better, happier, more egalitarian place. Well, it's nonsense. People's minds and skills should all be taken seriously, and treated equally, but not at the cost of a sexless uniformity.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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On the important issues, Louise Casey all too often has little to say

Far from moving the debate on, this new report on integration adds little to the report I commissioned in 2001. 

For 15 years, “numerous government reports on community cohesion and integration have not been implemented with enough force or consistency” concludes Louise Casey’s review of  integration.  The government’s lukewarm response suggests their effort will be as “diluted and muddled” as all the rest.

There’s a deeper reason why governments shy away from the measures that are needed. The report's wealth of data sets out a stark if sometimes contestable picture of a divided society.  But no amount of data can really bring the lives of our fellow citizens to life. As the Brexit vote underlined, this is now a nation divided by class, geography, education, wealth, opportunity and race. Those divisions colour the way we live our lives, the way we see problems in society, the relations we have with others, and our political choices. The report, like many before it, stops short of setting out that reality. It’s easier to pretend that most of us pretty much agree on most things; but just few people don’t agree and they must be the problem. Predictably, much of the early coverage has focussed on the Muslim community and new migrants. If only it were so easy.

According to Casey “in this country, we take poverty, social exclusion, social justice and social mobility seriously” and we do it “across political divides”. Apparently “creating a fair, just society where everyone can prosper and get on” is a cornerstone of British values. Yet for page after page the report chronicles the serial failure of this benign consensus to tackle educational under-performance, and economic and racial disadvantage. If we all agree, how come we haven't done anything about it?

These problems are not certainly easy to solve, but more lip service is paid to tackling them than effort. The practical material issues documented here need addressing, but punches are pulled when hard answers are needed. Given the dramatic impact of mass migration on cohesion, is integration possible while current rates of immigration persist? Can we find the political will to tackle poverty and disadvantage when those who might benefit from the effort are divided against each other by suspicion, race, geography and values? After all, rather than progressive policies producing a cohesive society, social unity is the precondition for the introduction of progressive policies.

We don't actually actually agree on what our “fundamental values” mean in practice. We can all sign up to democracy and the rule of law, but as soon as those are put into practice – see the court case on Article 50 – we are divided. When judges are popularly seen as “enemies of the people” and a vote in an elected parliament as a threat to democracy, in what sense are law and democracy fundamental?

Casey usefully highlights how treating homeless families equally, irrespective of ethnicity and length of residence can create the perception that minorities are being favoured over long standing residents. Our differing views on what is “just” and how “fairness” are defined can tear us apart. Is it fair to favour the newcomer over the indigenous? Is it just to put length of time on the waiting list above housing need? We often don't even acknowledge the legitimacy of other points of view, let alone try to find common ground.

The continual invocation of Britain and British values lends an air of unreality to the report.  Most people in England include British in their identity, but Englishness and English interests are of growing importance. In a worrying development, some areas of England  may be polarising between a white Englishness and an ethnic minority Britishness. Integration won't happen without a shared national story that combines a unifying national identity with the acceptance that we all have more than one identity that matters to us. Ignoring the reality of complex and multiple identities closes off one essential way forward.

None of this means that the criticism of some reactionary and occasionally dangerous ideas and practices in the Muslim community should be ignored and not confronted. But in a country where the established church opposes homosexual relationships and praise for Vladimir Putin's Russia is now mainstream politics it is hard to believe that all our problems can be reduced to the behaviour of a minority of a minority community.

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University