Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

New strategy on community cohesion

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has unveiled a new strategy on community cohesion

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has brought down the curtain on the era of state-sponsored multiculturalism, with a new strategy on community cohesion and integration which calls for people to come together around shared values.

Mr Pickles said the Government will stand up for "mainstream" values by strengthening national identity and celebrating what people in England have in common, rather than what divides them.

He accused the previous Labour administration, and its equalities minister Harriet Harman, of taking the country down "the wrong path" by encouraging different communities to live separate lives. And he called for local communities to use events like the Big Lunch or the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and inter-faith activities to bring together people of different backgrounds.

Mr Pickles made clear his determination to keep the English language and the Christian religion at the centre of national life, citing decisions to require migrants to speak English, reduce the number of official documents translated into other languages and allow councils to hold prayers at the start of meetings.

New education standards will bar schools from teaching which "undermines fundamental British values", said the document from his Department for Communities and Local Government. But he also confirmed his commitment to tolerance, insisting that the Government will remain vigilant to hate crimes directed at Muslims and Jews.

"We are rightly proud of our strong history of successful integration and the benefits that it's brought," said Mr Pickles.

"Britain is a place where the vast majority of people from all walks of life get on well with each other. Events such as the royal wedding and the Big Lunch show that community spirit is thriving. I welcome the contribution of everyone but those who advocate separate lives are wrong. It is time to concentrate on the things that unite the British people."

The paper said that, despite Britain's tradition of tolerance, the past decade has seen growing concern over race relations, as incoming migrants in some areas have shown themselves "unable or unwilling to integrate".

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said Mr Pickles's strategy would fuel sectarianism. He said: "While we agree that there should be some common values to live by - a shared language and respect for human rights - there cannot be a religious hierarchy that discounts the feelings of those who don't share in that faith.It is a recipe for conflict between communities that already eye each other with suspicion."

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: "The vast majority of people in Britain are not members of any local church, religious group or community, and so to lay such emphasis on religious identities as being the ones most important for encouraging voluntary work or community building is misguided."

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