The Prime Minister's speech over the weekend has drawn much comment from various quarters, ranging from the default reaction of condemnation from the left to the equally outrageous view that he was speaking for the far right. In the countless comments and reaction that has followed, focus has been on everything from historical context on how we have ended up at the current position to whether the timing was right given the march in Luton.
Some commentators and vested interest groups have been critical and have thrown the age old argument of victimisation and racism at the Prime Minister, precisely the sort of thing which has allowed the separation to flourish and what the Prime Minister himself identified as one of the causes. Labour were quick to jump on this Milli – bandwagon too and having allowed the problem of extremism to grow during their 13 year watch, accused the PM of pandering to the right wing. They are in denial on their failure in this area as in others, and we could remind them, but that is not the purpose of this article.
The Prime Minister talked about stronger identity. In this context, we have immediate opportunities to celebrate and indeed cement this shared national identity through sport. The Cricket World Cup later this month and the Olympics next year are opportunities for all of us to go a lot further in developing stronger national identity. Just as in the case of the football world cup last year, I would like the PM to fly the union jack over Downing Street and wish our team well following on from their glorious ashes triumph, but I also want the rest of us to show pride in our team. And yes, I am going to mention the Tebbit test.
Whatever your views about Lord Tebbit, it is hard to argue that his test has perhaps even more significance now then it did when he first raised it. I say this as keen cricketer myself in my youth who did not pass the test but who has come to realise that the notion that it is OK to support any other nation against England is wrong and while this itself can be considered harmless banter, the person with this mindset then sees himself as outsider, not part of the mainstream. It is important to use sport to celebrate our shared national identity, to create a sense of belonging, and pride in our country, and of course to do the most British of things and mock our abject failure.
In my case multiculturalism was at the heart of why I did not pass the Tebbit test. When I set up a cricket club consisting of only Asian players back in the late 1980s, I was aided by the powers-that-be in the form of grants and help because we happened to be Asian and from a deprived area. Well meaning as they were, what they did not realise was that this was creating an "us and them" mentality and sowing seeds of division in young men that could shape their future attitudes and behaviours.
If you happened to be a mixed club, there was no such help for you, which in itself was causing resentment due to the special treatment that was afforded to us. In this most simple of ways division was encouraged and in those circumstances when Pakistan toured in 1987, of course there was only one team we were going to support. I believe this is an example of what the Prime Minister was referring to when he mentioned ensuring public funds go to groups and schemes that encourage a shared sense of identity and not those who promote the opposite.
The second opportunity in building stronger national identity is the Royal Wedding in April and here I have to congratulate the Government for taking the first steps in declaring the day a national holiday. It is now up to the rest of us, including local authorities, to create the carnival atmosphere befitting the occasion. This is a chance where the whole nation can come together in shared purpose, on the same day, to celebrate and the real beauty of it is that we are already in the final in this one.
I am not naïve enough to think that this is all that is required to solve the deep rooted problems in our communities; but this is an element that has been missing and an integral part of the mix when added to all the other things this Government has initiated, such as pupil premium, setting up of free schools and academies with degree of autonomy over admission, apprenticeships and training opportunities, welfare to work programmes, English language training, devolution of power, controlled immigration, a balanced approach to foreign policy, citizenship service and so on. Given time, these will put us on a path to addressing the concerns we all share about our society and our communities.
In the coming months, I am sure there will be more substance added to the broad outline of the Prime Minister's speech and it will become clearer at a practical level in terms of policy. Some no doubt will sit uncomfortably with many people, including Conservatives, but are a necessary evil given where we find ourselves. In the debate that has been initiated, I am sure there will be other practical suggestions which could shape the arguments further, however, one thing is clear, the Prime Minister has a firm grasp of what is needed in this area to reverse the damage of the past and he is not afraid to do something about it.