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Déjà vu. Labour tribalists block a “progressive majority” - again

Beckett, Blunkett and Reid should hang their heads in shame.

If David Cameron wins a Commons majority at the next general election, on redrawn boundaries and under first-past-the-post, he should send a personal note of thanks to a former acting Labour leader and two former Labour home secretaries. Margaret Beckett, John Reid and David Blunkett were at the forefront of the Tory-funded, ultra-conservative No to AV campaign, loudly defending the dysfunctional electoral system that helped deliver the 20th century to the Conservative Party.

Beckett was president of No to AV; Reid shared a platform with Cameron for a joint No to AV campaign event on 17 April; Blunkett, meanwhile, on the eve of the referendum, cheerily confessed to having been fully aware of the No to AV campaign's lies and smears.

AV looks likely to be defeated. The result isn't out till this evening but I hear YouGov is predicting a 2:1 majority for the No side.

Do you get a sense of déjà vu? Just a year ago, it was Blunkett and Reid who led the (successful) attempt to scupper a "rainbow coalition" between Labour, the Lib Dems and the nationalists, preferring to luxuriate in opposition as Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith squeezed the middle and demonised the poor.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform our broken, majoritarian voting system that disenfranchises millions of voters and puts power in the hands of a hundred thousand or so "swing" voters in "Middle England" marginal seats has been lost. It was our last chance – supporters of PR who opposed AV, such as the RMT's Bob Crow, whom I debated on the Jeremy Vine show yesterday, were perhaps asleep when Osborne pointed out that a No vote in the referendum would settle the issue of electoral reform "for the foreseeable future". He's right.

But John Harris and Guido Fawkes are wrong: there is a progressive, social-democratic, anti-Tory majority in this country, a majority of voters who back well-funded public services and redistributive taxation. The problem is that it doesn't have a hope in hell of being represented until the likes of Blunkett, Reid, Beckett, John Prescott and the rest – David Cameron's "useful idiots" inside the Labour Party – get out of the way.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: Getty
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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