Saturday, 12 May 2018

Brexit and Xenophobia

Professor Tendayi Achiume, the UN special rapporteur on racism, has said:
The environment leading up to the [Brexit] referendum, the environment during the referendum, and the environment after the referendum has made racial and ethnic minorities more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance...
Many with whom I consulted highlighted the growth in volume and acceptability of xenophobic discourses on migration, and on foreign nationals including refugees in social and print media.
It would be wrong to dismiss the entire Brexit movement as xenophobic; I know a number of Brexiters who are certainly not xenophobic and voted against the EU for reasons such as its institutional failings or for its support for globalisation. So there are two half-decent reasons to vote Leave, even if in the end I disagree with them. Ian Dunt analyses the left-wing 'Lexit' movement here. Some on the left see the EU as a barrier to certain left wing aims, but I agree with this assessment from Dunt:
The EU is basically a social democrat project, based along German or Scandinavian lines. That's probably too right-wing for some people, and it's certainly too left wing for others. But it has a lot of space there for a wide range of political arrangements, covering the vast majority of political views in the UK. It doesn't always get the relationship right between abiding by EU rules and workers' rights, but you have to be a very stern observer to conclude from these fairly limited problems that we should take the massive risk of leaving the EU altogether, especially under such a right wing government. But still, we shouldn't write off left wing criticisms of the EU. Many of them are perfectly valid. Remainers would do well to address them, rather than dismiss them.
I doubt there are many xenophobes amongst the Lexiteers.

However, I think it’s fair to say that xenophobes are more likely to have voted Brexit. Why do I think this is fair to say? Well, more than one survey has concluded that Brexit is strongly linked to xenophobia. Furthermore, more Brexit voters self report as racist.
The Institute of Race Relations said “‘Brexit means Brexit’ is already being translated for BAME and migrant communities into ‘Brexit means racism’ – not just on the ground but also in the repressive proposals already emanating from politicians and government departments in October 2016”.

Now, to be fair, the statistics aren’t completely clear; analysis of Yougov’s surveys for the Campaign Against Antisemitism in 2015 and 2017 shows a reduction in anti-semitic attitudes in that period (and, by the way, show a reduction in antisemitism amongst Labour voters, pace the recent accounts of antisemitism in that party).

Nevertheless, the weight of the evidence suggests a link between the Brexit vote and xenophobia, and at the very least existing xenophobes were more vocal about their xenophobia after Brexit.

And it comes to something when Jacob Rees Mogg effectively tweets that Enoch Powell’s famous speech was racist and gets a load of abuse for it from other right-wingers; click on this link and check out the abuse JRM gets for supporting his father's view that Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech was 'racialist':

If JRM is too moderate for some people, then the right wing really is heading in a bad direction!

Maybe the increase in reported xenophobia around the Brexit vote is just a temporary blip, and I am being too pessimistic; I certainly hope so.

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Friday, 11 May 2018

Success on Faith School Cap

Back in December 2016 I participated in the letter writing campaign to prevent the abolition of the 50% cap on selection for faith schools. This is what I wrote to my MP:

Dear Jeremy Quin MP,

I am writing to you as a constituent to ask you to oppose the plans to allow new and existing religious free schools to discriminate against all your constituents who happen to fall outside a school's denomination. I have at least 3 objections:

1) Principles of fairness: it cannot be right that my tax money, and that of most taxpayers, goes towards educational establishments that would bar our children and grandchildren. In fact, of course, equity dictates quite the opposite; that the public funding of schools should require that they are open to all, in principle.

2) Integration: we should all know by now that a major challenge to us in the modern world is to effectively integrate our multi-cultural populations. Secularism has proved the best approach to this problem, for the religious and non-religious alike. Gandhi, recognising the challenge that faced the Indian subcontinent, was religious and a secularist, and said that the state should never promote denominational education out of public funds. As I'm sure you know, David Cameron said about the existing 50% rule:

‘It cannot be right…that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths. That doesn’t foster a sense of shared belonging and understanding – it can drive people apart.’

Well, he was wrong about Brexit, but I hope you’ll agree that on this score he was absolutely right! The evidence tells us that religious selection in schools entrenches religious segregation in the community, and reduces social cohesion.

3) Educational standards: faith schools have a worse record than other schools in teaching anti-science, such as creationism, and promoting views that discriminate against minorities, like the LGBT community. Despite the teaching of creationism being banned, this still didn't prevent Ofsted awarding a status of 'Good' to a school that censored questions on evolution in a science exam and admitted to teaching creationism ( Allowing full selection will increase the dangers of the wholesale indoctrination of children with these retrograde views. Of course, that is exactly why religious groups lobby for full selection!

So I hope you agree that on grounds of fairness, integration and educational standards, the removal of religious selection is what we should be aiming for, not its re-introduction. Thank you.

Mr Quinn's reply made the following defence of removing the cap:

While the number of children in a good or outstanding school has risen dramatically in the last few years it remains the case that too many children in this country still do not have access to either. The proposals that have been put forward look to deliver an even more diverse school system that gives all children, whatever their background, the opportunity to achieve their potential. 

Faith schools have a strong record of high pupil attainment and are often very popular with parents. Current rules, however, restrict the ability for more good faith schools to be opened, without succeeding in promoting integration. The proposals would see the current cap on the number of pupils who can be admitted on the basis of faith when the school is oversubscribed removed. 

At the time I didn't appreciate the significance of the sentence "Current rules, however, restrict the ability for more good faith schools to be opened, without succeeding in promoting integration.". This argument was driven by the decision of the Catholic Church in England and Wales to boycott the free schools programme because of the 50% cap. But, as Humanists UK (formerly the BHA) and the Accord Coalition have pointed out, the Catholic Church's stand on this issue is bogus; the Accord Coalition says:
The Catholic Church of England and Wales has opted not to open Catholic free schools, which is a self imposed boycott designed to undermine the 50% cap. It is very telling that state funded Catholic schools in other developed countries do not select pupils by faith, nor do most private Catholic schools in England.
Now the Government has announced that it will break its manifesto promise and keep the 50% cap on selection. Chief Executive of Humanists UK Andrew Copson said:
The decision to keep the cap on faith-based selection is a victory for integration, mutual understanding, and the interests of children. It is also a significant victory for Humanists UK and its supporters, who have successfully led the national campaign against the removal of the cap and in favour of open, integrated schools.
If this vision is to be fully realised, then attention must now turn to preventing new, fully segregated schools by another means, which the Government has now unwisely created. The need for the Government to save face, or to appease a handful of religious organisations and their unreasonable demands, should not be prioritised over what’s best for children and society. Today’s u-turn makes clear that fully segregated school intakes are anathema to an open, diverse society, but the Government should now recognise this throughout the education system and not create new segregation.
Kudos to him, and also to Rabbi Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition, for spearheading this campaign. The second paragraph of Copson's quote above, however, points to a £50m expansion fund that the Government has announced for the voluntary aided sector. This appears to be a sop to the Catholic Church and others for the Government not following through on their manifesto commitment to remove the 50% cap. It is ridiculous to be spending money on segregated schools at a time of reduced community cohesion and a squeeze on budgets generally.

I agree with Copson and Romain that fully segregated schools are anathema to an open, diverse society. Here's Jonathan Romain:
There is a real danger that the growth in faith schools today will be blamed in 30 years' time for the social disharmony then. It is not too late to reverse that trend, if we want a society that has diversity within unity, not at the expense of it. Perhaps this Passover the message should be: "Let my children mix."
Hear, hear.

UPDATE - tweet from Andrew Copson today:

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