“I don’t think it’s a two-way street,” Louise Casey said of integration, early into her questioning by the Communities and Local Government committee. Instead, she described it as a “bloody great motorway” with new arrivals on “a slipway”:
“The people in the middle, the motorway, of course they have to adjust a little bit but the general thing moves in the same direction.”
Casey was there to talk about her recent review on integration, which focused on British South Asian Muslim communities.
Depressing commuter metaphors, she likes to be blunt. She joked she preferred the “shove” unit to the famed “nudge” policy unit. One of her reasons for wanting to promote English is “it would mean we didn’t have to do bloody translation leaflets”. On Rotherham, the town now associated with a child grooming scandal, she said: “The English Defence League milked the hell out of that town.”
Casey herself seems driven by both a Cameronesque muscular liberalism, and a host of petty irritations. On the one hand, she returned again and again to theme of gender equality, and women isolated within an already marginalised community. Her concern for child welfare is clear.
On the other, many of the examples she dwelt on seemed strangely trivial – a student taught to rewire Pakistani rather than UK plugs, Eastern Europeans who didn’t put the bins out right, and the lack of Guardian Soulmates in certain minority communities (Labour MP for Bethnal Green Rushanara Ali pointed out that there are plenty of faith-based apps available). “Nobody told them to queue,” Casey said sadly of new arrivals to the country.
She said she had uncovered examples of extremism in schools, a worrying revelation. But her most concrete example was gender segregation, which she mentioned again and again, without apparently noticing how widespread it is in mainstream education. Eton, you have been warned.
The world conjured up by Casey is one of claustrophobic neighbourhoods, rotten boroughs and twitching lace curtains. It’s clear Casey has paced the streets of Britain’s left behind towns, knocked on many doors and sat in many dusty local authority back rooms.
“You don’t see enough of the good practice there in the report,” said SNP MP for Glasgow Central, Alison Thewliss, one of the few MPs not nodding along.
Casey said she wanted to focus on the priorities for improvement, not what was already done well. “The thing about Scotland, is its population is smaller than London,” she explained. “So getting things done in Scotland is more straightforward.” Thewliss no doubt made a note to tell Holyrood.
But it’s a shame neither she nor the majority of MPs set aside more time to discuss some of the more hopeful findings of her report Like the fact, despite Casey’s avowed wish to go home “and watch telly” at night, 82 per cent of us socialise with someone from a different ethnic or religious background. Or the fact 89 per cent of us consider our community cohesive – more than at the height of New Labour. Maybe everyone on the motorway could do with some examples of good driving.