Politicians are in flight from the hard questions revealed by the censusby Philip Collins / January 23, 2013 / Leave a comment
“Nothing done by government has changed the nation more than loosening immigration relations”: a 2008 citizenship ceremony in London (© Getty Images)
On 19th April 2001, the foreign secretary Robin Cook gave an address on national identity to the Social Market Foundation that has always since been known as “the chicken tikka masala” speech. Cook had chosen a vivid metaphor for a familiar multicultural theme: when cultures collide, the mixture can produce something different from both and superior to either. In this case, the desire of the people of Glasgow to have their chicken tikka covered in gravy created chicken tikka masala.
I recall this speech not just because a decade has elapsed and another census from the Office for National Statistics has recently been published, posing again the question of what kind of people the British are. It is also because, in an event so corny that it could have been staged to provide an opening for an article on British identity, I met my Indian wife that evening. Our children will be delighted to know that I consider that union produced something both different to and superior to either.
Ten years on, how are we all doing? The results from the 2011 census, compiled in March 2011, brings to mind George Orwell’s point that the fading figure in the photograph on the mantelpiece every day bears less and less of a resemblance to the you who is looking at it, apart from the fact that you happen to be the same person. Britain has changed and aged in the decade between 2001 and 2011.
The population of England and Wales has reached 56.1m, up by 3.7m in a decade, which is the largest growth shown by any census since they began in 1801. Half the increase was due to net migration. The other half is attributable to the fact that, between March 2001 and March 2011, the 5m deaths were more than cancelled out by 6.6m births.
The nation which emerges from the 2011 census is one which is more diverse, less religious and older than it once was. It is one which faces five serious questions, all of which are contained in the data, there to be discovered by any politician brave enough to confront them.
The first question is a fundamental, tectonic shift. Politics is no…