Anger, Trust and Community Cohesion – a warning about history?

TCC have argued in previous postings that Community Cohesion is still a very important issue in the UK. In March this year we were saying:

There is no great evidence that the situation has improved. Indeed the Barnsley Central by-election result last night, shows this disaffection with mainstream politics still exists.

The recent Searchlight Educational Trust Fear and Hope report, which was recently commented on here, shows there are strong emotions such as fear being expressed by some groups, which hardly indicate cohesive communities.

In addition, recent polls show that 47% of the public still see Immigration and Asylum as the second most important issue after the economy. We have also seen the continued rise of organised groups expressing fear of Muslims in the UK, which reflects trends in other parts of Europe.

The current turmoil in the Middle East may be seen by many in the UK, who hold certain values, as a democratic awakening. However it may also be feared by others in the UK, who hold different values, for its potential domestic impact on their livelihoods and because they perceive they will be subsequently treated unfairly in comparison to others.

There is a potential danger that strong emotions and attitudes about this might not automatically be heeded by some working on the public policy agenda due to the Values Gap which has been previously referred to here. However TCC is pleased that there is a greater recognition of the need to address the issue in the right way and has worked with over 40 local authorities on gathering insight and delivering engagement with some of their most disaffected communities around cohesion issues.

Issues such as fears over immigration and integration of some communities at a time of recession may lead people to look to those expressing populist solutions in response to a long period of economic stagnation. As Richard Wilson wrote today on the Guardian blog about Angry Britain: “Anger is in the air, on the streets, in the workplace, even in our homes. Upheaval in the economy is creating discontent at all levels.” He calls for honest debate, authenticity, engagement and shared goals as things to address people’s feeling of powerlessness and anger and these are approaches that TCC have advocated  for a long time.

Those people who hold universalist, participatory and ethically driven values may see the social media driven and socially networked occupation outside St Paul’s cathedral as part of a significant global movement to address this anger and discontent and their universalism readily identifies with the ‘We are the 99%’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like’ bigger picture concepts. However we need to recognise others may be driven by outer directed motivational values where they either see it as threatening to their current lifestyle or aspirations and not achieving much immediately in terms of results; or they may hold even hold sustenance, safety and security values where they see it as something strange or disrespectful.

Whilst the anger Richard Wilson describes has so far not seen direct electoral success for the far-right, nevertheless as the think-tank ICOCO reported, many of the fears previously expressed in deprived communities recorded in TCC‘s research have spread more widely across the UK, so that challenges to community cohesion run wide if not deep and this may make them more unpredictable?

The highly regarded academic Matthew Goodwin, who specialises on far-right politics, also spoke last month at the RSA for the BBC Radio 4 Four Thought series about the content of this fear and anger. The BBC reported on his conclusions here and a full podcast of his comments is here.

His 15 minute address starts with a compelling story about a Jewish woman’s involvement with far-right political activism. This demonstrated very effectively that narrative capture can be important to gain deep insight into the complex mix of emotions, perceptions and stories that drive people’s concerns.

Matthew Goodwin concludes that a potentially significant future challenge for community cohesion and consequent lack of trust is not one of demand, but one of supply in that those representing extreme far right politics in the UK have not broken away from past images of Fascism and Nazi politics, in comparison to those who are more electorally successful in the Europe.  Where this image change has been attempted it has been critiqued by liberal and left commentators that far-right activists now appear in suits rather than Ben Sherman’s and Doctor Marten’s. This criticism over superficiality may make a reassuring political point to those who hold cosmopolitan and universalist values, but we should not forget that the image change is for a purpose, has an impact and has led to greater electoral success at local government, European and London Assembly level at least in the short-term. Goodwin’s key point is nevertheless that if a persuasive individual or organisation, without past political baggage effectively addresses the supply issue, we could see radical political upheaval quite rapidly. Are those in public policy even considering this potential Black Swan event or considering early intervention to address the increasing challenges to community cohesion within ‘Angry Britain’?

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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