Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.
With June’s EU referendum dominating politics, it even became the central theme this week in the Mayoral contest to govern Europe’s biggest city.
Zac Goldsmith’s support for Leave has given Sadiq Khan the chance to stress his agreement with a Conservative Chancellor and Prime Minister, suggesting that the Labour candidate does not see his own party leader as an electoral asset.
Yet it is their competing visions for London that will be on trial in May, with both sharing the same objective, that of winning the support of enough Londoners to secure the top spot at City Hall.
Most observers expect a close contest, with Zac Goldsmith a slight underdog in this Labour-leaning city. To redress that deficit, he will need to present a vision that appeals to a wide range of Londoners from all backgrounds.
A proposal put forward today by British Future, for a new Office for Citizenship and Integration at the GLA, offers a blueprint for how the Mayor could play prominent role in bringing Londoners together.
It entails reaching out both to those who feel anxious about whether we can handle the impacts on our society of high levels of immigration, as well as those new arrivals to our country who wonder whether they are really welcome to become ‘one of us’.
Over a third of London’s population was born outside of the UK. This era of high migration to Britain has been the source of much public anxiety, yet Londoners have remained more confident than most about the gains of migration.
Maintaining that public confidence, however, will not happen all by itself. When people from different cultures live side by side there is always the possibility of tension, especially if we do not have contact with our neighbours and a shared sense of pride in the identities we have in common too.
So we need a London that we can all share. We need to promote more contact and understanding between Londoners from different backgrounds. And we need to build a sense of citizenship that reaches and matters to Londoners born and raised in Britain as much as to this country’s newest arrivals.
The new Office, led by a new Deputy Mayor, would offer an important way for the new Mayor to pursue a proactive and practical agenda on integration, as other world cities have done with notable success.
In a new report published today, we set out some of the key priorities that we believe that the new Office for Citizenship and Integration could pursue:
- Ensuring that more people speak English so they can be fully part of British life, with an expectation that anyone here for a year or more should be speaking English or learning to do so;
- Promoting more contact between people from different backgrounds and greater joint involvement in civic life and, including through voter registration and volunteering;
- Encouraging more migrants already living in London to take British Citizenship, demonstrating their commitment to London and to Britain, with a target over the four-year term of 100,000 more registrations than the previous term
We believe this agenda can be pursued effectively at limited cost, with philanthropic partners in the city and charitable foundations supplementing existing GLA resources.
A new London citizenship fund could be created pulling private and public monies together, aiming to agree pledges that will total £1 million in private donations, with the expectation that they would be matched by the Mayor.
This is something for all Londoners, of all backgrounds. Integration should not be seen as a challenge only for migrants and minority groups. The new Deputy Mayor should champion a vision of integration as a shared challenge for us all, ensuring the pressures and gains of migration are handled in a way that can be seen to be fair, both to those coming in and to those already here.
So efforts could be made to ensure that all those turning 18 in London are made aware of what good citizenship entails and the importance of being an active citizen, encouraging all young Londoners to register and use their first vote.
The Office for Citizenship and Integration could also look at how the capital marks its traditions as an English city on St George’s Day, fostering a collective pride in a shared identity and, importantly, ensuring that all Londoners are invited and feel welcome at the party.
In his conference speech, the Prime Minister laid out his own One Nation vision of a Britain in which we can all feel we have a stake. London could take the lead in showing how to turn that vision into a reality.
It should be comfortable territory for a party that showed at the last General Election that its message can increasingly resonate right across modern Britain. As one of the proposal’s supporters, Steve Norris, himself no stranger to the London mayoral race, says:
“London Conservatives are increasingly confident about our ability to appeal to Londoners across every colour and creed. I hope Zac Goldsmith and his campaign will see the proposal as an attractive way for the next Mayor to make a positive contribution to bringing our diverse city together.”
London is already an integration success story, certainly compared to most other European capitals. But we can’t just assume it will work out by itself.
With a dynamic individual driving forward a proactive plan, London could do so much more, helping to develop a stronger, shared sense of what integration means – and how it can work in one of the greatest cities in the world.