One of the big political themes that Prospect has pursued over the past few years is the potential conflict between diversity and social cohesion – what we have called the “progressive dilemma.” One of the reasons we have returned to it – in pieces by Alan Wolfe and Jytte Klausen, John Lloyd, Bob Rowthorn and others – is that we are, by journalistic temperament, drawn to trade-offs and dilemmas and there was an obvious gap in the ideas market for this one. The politicians found it too sensitive to touch and the academics were too busy elsewhere. That is now changing. David Blunkett advocates a liberal nationalism that tries to balance cohesion with diversity, and star political scientists such as Robert Putnam have begun to interrogate the dilemma.
Inside I try to draw some of the evidence and arguments together. There are many aspects to diversity in modern liberal states. But ethnic diversity – because it is the easiest to quantify and the most emotionally charged – tends to muscle the others out of the discussion. The scale and speed of migration into Britain is clearly a big issue in the progressive dilemma. This is not, however, an essay about mass immigration. It is an attempt to explore the boundaries of our willingness to share. Nor is it a blunt appeal for the forward march of diversity to be halted. There is a question mark in the title: Too diverse?
Many Britons want the question mark removed as the results of our Mori/Prospect poll show (page 16). But the poll also suggests that anxieties about diversity can be understood as part of a wider fear of free riding. Forty-five per cent agreed that other people get unfair priority when it comes to public services and state benefits – notwithstanding the real welfare abuse that exists, this is a startling response, and a politically potent one.
In our cover article Lewis Page points out that – unlike 100 years ago – even well informed members of the public know next to nothing about defence. His critique of the navy suggests that if Britain’s armed forces are to be the pioneers of global justice that Tony Blair wants, we need a wholesale rethink of our “kit.” This issue is also an Australian literary special – with a fiction overview from Kate Kellaway and a short story by Tim Winton. Finally, welcome back to Paul Broks’s monthly column.