🔒 Britain’s assimilation triumph: A diversity royal flush defying racism – Adrian Wooldridge

In a tapestry of diversity, Britain emerges as an assimilation superpower, defying racial tensions with a diversity royal flush. With leaders from Zambian-born Vaughan Gething to London’s Sadiq Khan, the British Isles epitomize ethnic representation. Beneath recent headlines of racism lies a story of upward mobility, where immigrants enrich British culture and economy. As challenges persist, assimilation remains Britain’s hallmark, shaping a multicultural tapestry of resilience and progress.

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By Adrian Wooldridge

Britain is an ethnic assimilation superpower. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

You could call it a diversity royal flush. With the ascension of Zambian-born Vaughan Gething as Welsh Labour leader and first minister-elect, all senior elected offices in the British Isles are held by ethnic minorities: the prime minister, Rishi Sunak is, by ethnic origin, Hindu- Punjabi; Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, is first-generation Pakistani-Punjabi; and the mayor of the global city-state that is London, Sadiq Khan, is of Pakistani heritage. It’s Labour Party leader, and the next likely prime minister, Keir Starmer, who stands out as a white man with a knighthood.

Recent headlines have presented a depressing portrait of Britain as a hotbed of racism. George Galloway won the Rochdale by-election for the Workers Party by playing on racial tensions. Lee Anderson first accused Mayor Khan of falling under the control of Islamists and then, having lost the Conservative whip, defected to Reform, saying that he wants his country back. The Conservative government is still trying to pass legislation to make it easier to send undocumented migrants to Rwanda. And it emerged that Frank Hester — a major Conservative donor to the tune of £10 million ($13 million) — had said that looking at Diane Abbott (Britain’s first Black Member of Parliament) makes you “want to hate all black women,” and said that she “should be shot.” (Hester has since apologized.) 

Look beneath these dismal reports, however, and a much more optimistic picture emerges. A higher share of the population was born outside the country than is the case in the US, the classic nation of immigrants: In the UK, it’s 10 million people, or a sixth of the population. These people come from a large (and growing) number of nations — from those in eastern Europe as well as the Indian subcontinent and Africa — and include more women than men. They scatter across the country — hence Gething in Wales and Yousaf in Scotland, and hence the fact that your columnist can get excellent curries in rural Hampshire. 

The tale of immigration now is largely one of upward mobility rather than stasis and alienation. Foreign-born men have a slightly higher employment rate than British-born residents (though foreign-born women have a lower rate). Ethnic Chinese and Indians outperform Whites in education, and, over the past two decades, Bangladeshis in England have gone from performing significantly worse than White British in state exams to achieving significantly better.

Britain’s genius for assimilation goes back a long way. “A true born Englishman’s a Contradiction,” Daniel Defoe wrote in poem in 1701, “In speech an Irony, in Fact a Fiction.” Britain has cheerfully imported its kings from Holland and then Germany. (The Normans’ arrival in 1066 was a different story.) Queen Victoria, that embodiment of Englishness, was almost 100% German (there was a single non-German great-great-great-great great grandfather), an ethnic pedigree she reinforced by marrying Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Victoria’s favorite prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, was the grandson of a Jewish immigrant from Italy.

Britain’s first Indian MP, Dadabhai Naoroji, was elected to the House of Commons in 1892. Its first ethnic-minority party leader, R. Palme Dutt, was general-secretary of the Communist Party in 1939 to 1941, during the Nazi-Soviet pact. Its first Black footballer, Walter Tull, played for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton long before the First World War.

The UK is a composite kingdom comprised of four nations that have independent traditions but have nevertheless  accepted that they are better together. The English absorbed the Scottish, Welsh and, most traumatically, the Irish into a country that is simultaneously united and devolved. A version of this strategy was applied to the empire, moving forward from brutal conquest to assimilation and devolution. Britishness is a big tent, not a narrow tabernacle.

The very notion of “Britishness” is almost as much the creation of immigrants as it is of native-born Britons. Examine the most British of British institutions and you can often find an immigrant behind them: Rothschilds, Schroeders and Cazenove in the City; Marks & Spencer and Tesco in the High Street. The greatest chronicler of British architecture, Nikolaus Pevsner, was German; the greatest historian of 18th century England, Lewis Namier, a Pole; the most “Oxford” of Oxford dons, Isaiah Berlin, a Latvian. The greatest English writers include an astonishing number of people born abroad: Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Tom Stoppard, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro and that master of English curmudgeonliness, V.S. Naipaul. Handel, who composed Zadok the Priest, which is now played at every coronation, as well as The Messiah, was born in Germany.

Yet the pace of immigration over recent decades has been challenging. Britain is in the habit of importing workers to fill jobs without building the infrastructure necessary to support them. This is a triple problem: It adds to the strains on public services, particularly the National Health Service; increases house price inflation; and reduces pressure on employers to train the domestic labor force. The country is buying cheap growth at the expense of long-term social solidarity.

Illegal migration is a struggle not just because it exacerbates this problem with the infrastructure but also because it creates a sense that Britain isn’t in charge of its own borders. The willingness of indigenous populations to welcome immigrants is linked not only to numbers but to the sense of control (thus the effectiveness of Dominic Cummings’ “take back control” during Brexit). It is understandable that opposition parties such as Labour should make hay with the Tories’ agonies over Rwanda, but they also owe it to the public to say how they will deal with migrant boats.

Some ethnic minorities have failed to integrate into mainstream British society. This is particularly true of some Pakistanis in old industrial towns in the north and Scotland. These populations were imported in sudden rushes from specific regions, notably Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and have since been much slower in integrating than other ethnic groups, preserving their patriarchal cultures and regularly importing brides from back home. Around 46% of marriages in the Pakistani community in Bradford are between cousins

But wrapping up all these problems into a reductionist package marked “immigration” is problematic. Britain doesn’t have an “immigration problem.” It has a set of discrete problems that operate in the context of an overwhelmingly benign process of assimilation. Nor does Britain have a problem with multicultural assimilation. It has troubles with social isolation that affects some white working-class communities as well as some ethnic minorities. The battle against intergenerational poverty and persistent educational failure needs to be fought, both internally and by the wider society.

Meanwhile, some Tories are so keen on shoring up their right flank from Anderson’s friends in Reform that they pretend Britain has a far-reaching problem with multiculturalism when in fact, on the whole, today’s multiculturalism is part of a long-standing process of enrichment.

It is particularly shocking to listen to ethnic-minority politicians such as Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman talking about the failure of assimilation when their own lives are examples of just the opposite. But perhaps we have a paradox within a paradox. In Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, author Robert Winder tells a joke from the 1950s about two immigrants bumping into each other. 

“How are you?” says the first to the second. “How is your family? And work?” Having received a positive reply to all these questions, he asks his friend why he looks so miserable. “Because I still feel as if I don’t fit in.” The first man tells the other to go to Savile Row and get the most expensive suit he can afford. A year later, when the two bump into each other again, the second man is so well dressed that he looks like a duke. The first poses the same list of questions and gets the same answers. “So why do you still look so miserable?” he asks. The duke look-alike replies glumly: “Because the country is being overrun by foreigners.”

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