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Coffee House General Election 2017

‘British Values’ won’t help in our fight against terrorism

Steve Hilton has called for Theresa May to resign as Prime Minister, blaming her for the security failures that lead to the three recent terror attacks. Without intimate knowledge of the workings of the Cameron administration it’s hard to know where blame does lie. And there certainly has been a large increase in the number of terror plots for the authorities to deal with this year.

The security services have an awesome job in keeping track of as many as 23,000 individuals, and so we may now be facing a sort of Israelification of British life, with barriers going up on London’s bridges this morning. Already we now have bag searches around London museums and the occasional appearance of armed policemen outside cathedrals.

There was always going to be a terror acceleration, although I’m surprised it has happened so quickly; an important factor influencing whether someone becomes radicalised is to what degree they live around non-Muslims; so as the Muslim population increases in Britain, and between 2005 and 2015 it doubled (although that rate of growth is slowing down), there will be a disproportionate increase in the pool of recruits, as more areas in urban England become concentrated.

Theresa May has pledged to end ‘segregated communities’, although the fact that no government in the history of humanity has successfully ended segregation doesn’t dampen their spirits; likewise her pledge to promote ‘British values’, an empty idea which I’ve already bored for Britain about. There is sign of hope, though. The Muslim Council of Britain struck the perfect note yesterday, its secretary-general Harun Khan saying:

‘We are ready to have those difficult conversations, as equal citizens with an equal stake in this fight. We want to turn people’s minds away from this death cult. We want to ensure families are not torn apart by being either victims of terrorist outrages, or finding out that someone they knew perpetrated such acts.’

That conversation will be difficult, and there are structural problems that work against us. In multicultural societies there are incentives for minority leaders – self-appointed generally – to claim victim status and promote a sense of grievance. People who do this, and so gain a constituency, tend to be rewarded by government, because they can deliver voters and act as a conduit to the ‘community’. There are plenty of people who would say that life in Britain is pretty good, that they love this country and in the greater scheme of things don’t have many complaints – but what use is such a person to the system?

Another structural problem is that, as the Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman pointed out over the weekend, these attacks are going to increase hostility to Muslims, which in turn will encourage radicalisation. Sam is a friend with whom I profoundly disagree on the subject of immigration, and he got a lot of flak for this, but the point is almost certainly true. According to one paper, among the big terror risks are the size of the migrant population, having lower-skilled migrants, harsher policies and racism. France, which is worse than Britain on all four categories, has a bigger problem, but we’re not that far behind. Multicultural societies, and especially bicultural ones (Northern Ireland being a classic case) potentially carry positive feedback loops of hatred and radicalisation. Violence makes people more likely to want to saddle up next to people like them, not just of the same religion or ethnic background but political tribe, too – turning conservative against liberal and liberal against conservative. That’s why multiculturalism is obviously a fantastic idea.

And ‘British values’ will not make the slightest difference. Many concepts are only really articulated once they are disappearing; ‘chivalry’ was glorified by Sir Thomas Malory in his Morte d’Arthur only in the 1460s when the medieval code of ransoming aristocratic prisoners had complete gone and they were routinely beheaded; in The Likes of Us, Michael Collins recalled how local government types began talking of ‘community’ just as the old terraced streets were being ripped apart and replaced with lonely, isolating tower blocks which had no such thing. The reason we keep on hearing about ‘British values’ uniting our nation is precisely that they don’t; communities that genuinely do have a sense of group feeling don’t need to go on about a set of values that supposedly binds them. Why would they? This is not just about immigration; since the Second World War at least western societies have had a huge growth in values diversity, people being freer to chose their lifestyles; the internet has accelerated this. But these sort of values-diverse societies can only really run smoothly on the understanding that no one tries to blow the others up.

The MCB secretary-general also spoke about ‘working together to be part of a truly United Kingdom’. Good choice of words, and let’s hope we hear more of this kind of talk, but the situation now truly calls for great leadership. Whether Theresa May can provide it is a question Steve Hilton and many others will have doubts about.


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