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What's the leftwing answer to the integration problem? Nation-building

Building a shared community should be the left's response, says John Denham.

Few people who are honest about their own lives will have been surprised by the most recent confirmation that our communities are becoming more ethnically divided. The ethnically fragmented geography of cities like Bradford may be particularly stark, but even in places that pride themselves on their comfortable diversity, the reality can be less than the myth. As Trevor Phillips said in Winchester a few weeks ago “even in cosmopolitan London, where we have the widest range of social groupings, most of us tend not to mix socially with people of other ethnicities”. It seems that larger cities give us the space to rub along separately, rather than together.

It’s not just that members of different communities live physically separate lives; increasingly they watch different news channels, and different television drama and entertainment. The large factories that once brought migrants and indigenous communities together in some common interest and experience have largely closed. Public policy has failed to stop some employers choosing mono-ethnic workforces and schools policy has favoured faith and separation.

It’s not all bad everywhere, of course.  Simplistic notions of “white flight” and “no go areas” have long been discredited. But in a society in which the politics of identity is increasingly taking the place of the politics of class (and where inequality and lack of opportunity are often seen through an identity lens) we should be worried. Ted Cantle, the author of this week’s report, knows a bit about the subject. As a Home Office minister I asked him to lead the enquiry into the northern English riots of 2001.His report thrust the term ‘community cohesion’ briefly into the public debate. His observation of young people from different communities “living separate lives” and having little in the way of shared identities was stark, yet largely ignored in a political response that was overshadowed by 9/11.

Some of the most egregious mistakes of public policy - like investing in distinct deprived districts oblivious to the resentment that might be stoked in the almost equally poor but ethnically different streets on the other side of the main road - were reined back. But against a background of panic about radicalisation that led government to focus crudely and clumsily on the Muslim community alone, there was little time for the patient work to build a shared national identity that Cantle included in his recommendations.

One response to the data on ethnic geography will be to call for action to reverse the separation we see around us. If we start to admit what is happening we can begin to focus public policy, civil society and the private sector on our workplaces, schools and cultural life. But this will be a long haul. A focus on where we live is unlikely to bring about much change in how we live. A real coming together can only be built on a much deeper sense of shared values and share identity.

The 15 years since Cantle’s report have largely been wasted and in some ways have gone backwards.  When David Cameron announced the end of ‘state sponsored multiculturalism’ in 2010, he left the country with no public policy on integration or cohesion for the first time since the 1960s. In its place has come a ragbag of disparate measures, including the enforced teaching (in English schools only) of ‘British values’ that come devoid of history or shared stories.

Yet nation-building is exactly what needs to replace the old multiculturalism with its over-emphasis on respect for difference,  and silence on what we share together. Today, of course, a shared nation will be as much and probably more important England than our ideas of Britain. Nation-building demands that we bring together the shared stories of who we are, how we came to be here and what we share in common. It has to be embedded in our community, political and economic life and it needs the engagement of groups right across the nation. It won’t just happen, but is anyone prepared to recognise its urgency and important?

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

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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?