Segregation along class, racial or religious lines is inevitable and will happen even in tolerant, liberal societies like Britain.by Paul Ormerod / February 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Metropolitan liberals have received a number of shocks in the past few months. One of the biggest was the discovery that many of England’s poor, northern towns and cities are segmented along racial lines. Much in the same way as Edward VIII organised an expedition to the poverty-stricken south Wales coalfields in the 1930s, distinguished committees have visited, discovered and pronounced.
Still, the fact that things which have been obvious for years to anyone with experience of these areas are now wider public knowledge must be good news. The inhabitants of these towns have witnessed the developments with their own eyes, yet the prevailing ethos of multi-culturalism has restricted debate. At last, we might now be able to have a proper discussion.
It appears that far from celebrating diversity, the masses have taken every opportunity to separate themselves along racial lines. This is hardly surprising. A preference to mix with people similar to oneself is as old as humanity. British towns and cities have long been segregated along class and income lines. The Manchester bourgeoisie did not feature in Engels’s description of life in the central and eastern districts of the city in 1844. And nor did they feature for the next 150 years, until a few expensive apartments were built for them on old industrial premises. The British exception is inner London, where the rich and the poor have traditionally lived cheek-by-jowl. But the rich spend a great deal of effort and money in insulating themselves from their immediate surroundings, relying on private education, private health care and private transport.
Many similar examples can be found. The housing division along religious lines in Ulster is now unusual in the west. More common is the segmentation within the working class between the respectable and the remainder, the former fleeing first to garden estates then to private ownership in a long process which began in the 1950s and continues to this day.
For many liberals, the events in northern towns reinforce their belief that Britain is a deeply racist society. Yet Britain is, in fact, a rather tolerant society. It has accommodated immigrants, by and large placidly, from very different cultural and economic backgrounds. Immigrants tend to live in poorer areas and to compete for jobs at the lower end of the labour market. They exert pressure on precisely those groups for whom life is already something of a struggle.…